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Tales from CHA Everett Highlights Strained Resources and Hospital Woes

By Josh Resnek

When you need an emergency room in Everett, you head to the Cambridge Health Alliance Hospital on the hill. The former Whidden Hospital has been treating record numbers of patients, which reached a new high last week, according to a report on WBUR.

Although the holiday week is usually quiet, this year patients crowded the facility’s emergency room and on a recent afternoon, there were at least 30 patients crowded into a seating area designed for half that number.

What is happening here is the state of affairs all over the state in emergency rooms.

According to public health officials, emergency rooms are close to a breaking point as COVID cases are rising and people seek medical care they can’t find anywhere else.

In the Everett ER there are already long waits for health care services, “ hospital officials say.

“I am very worried that we are going to miss someone or something catastrophic,” said Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, who runs the CHA Everett emergency department.

“If you’re having a hard time breathing or having chest pain, you must, must, must come to the emergency department,” Lai-Becker said. “If you think you just need to get tested for COVID, please call your doctor, go to a testing center or go to urgent care,” she said.

The state Department of Public Health reported there were 1,817 COVID patients in hospitals as of Dec. 30, triple the figure compared to mid-November. That means COVID patients alone filled about one-fifth of hospital beds. And that doesn’t include all the people showing up at ERs who aren’t seriously ill, but want to get tested for COVID.

CHA Everett is currently has double the usual number of patients with only 70% of its typical staff.

Moving patients out of an emergency room can be as hard as getting them in. About one-third of beds in the Everett ER are filled with patients waiting for an opening in a psychiatric hospital placement or who need to be admitted to a hospital.

When beds are in short supply, hospitals sometimes search in other states. CHA Everett has sent patients to Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire recently. But the transfers can be difficult to arrange, because there is also a shortage of ambulances. And some patients would prefer to remain closer to home.

“It’s a decision we’re calculating every single day, if not every hour,” Lai-Becker said.

CHA Everett recently received reinforcements.

Two members of the National Guard arrived last week to help with security, to roll patients on gurneys to other parts of the hospital for tests, and to monitor patients waiting for a placement at psych hospital.

Almost everyone at the Everett ER is now working overtime. Some workers canceled holiday plans and put off winter vacations. Lai-Becker said she averages just five hours of sleep a night.

Lai-Becker also hopes people do everything they can to stay healthy, including getting vaccinated and wearing masks. So they won’t need to join the crowd already waiting in the emergency room.


Much of this article is taken from the airing of a WBUR story last week.

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