From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic a major concern has been that hospitals would get overwhelmed, causing a ripple effect throughout the health care system. Portions of the Midwest seem to be on the verge of that right now as the long-feared winter surge hits them.
This raises the question of how New Hampshire hospitals are doing. So far they’re doing OK, with one cautionary note.
According to Healthdata.gov, the site maintained by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the percentage of New Hampshire hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 patients remains one of the lowest in the country. In fact, all of Northern New England is doing comparatively well: Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in that order, are the best states in this category.
However, the figure has been steadily rising. The percentage of staffed New Hampshire hospital beds taken up by COVID-19 patients was between 1.5% and 2% for the last half of October but in the past week has been between 3% and 3.5%.
If that growth continues it could become a problem because, as Gov. Sununu noted at last week’s briefing, hospitals have not cut back on voluntary surgeries like they did in the spring. This means fewer beds are sitting empty to take any sudden COVID surge.
As for the 282 staffed intensive care unit beds available in New Hampshire, about three-fifths of them – between 145 and 189, depending on the day – have been taken up by patients of all kinds so far in November, with no sign of any trending increase despite the rise we’re seeing in the number of COVID patients going to the ICU.
Concord Hospital reflects the state’s situation. According to Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Dearborn, as of Monday the hospital had 8 COVID-19 patients, a number that has hardly changed all month although individual patients have come and gone.
The hospital’s ICU was more crowded, with 17 patients in its 20 ICU beds, but the majority were not COVID-19 patients, Dearborn said.
New Hampshire Hospital Association President Steve Ahnen said that hospitals benefit from knowing far more about the CoV-SARS2 coronvirus than they did in the spring, but that they remain concerned about any sudden surge – particularly since nine months of fighting the disease has taken a toll, both medical and psychological, on nurses, technicians, doctors and other health care staff.
“While we know more about COVID now and have more resources readily available, New Hampshire residents also have a vital role to play, as no one is immune to COVID-19, including healthcare workers,” Ahnen said.