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MCH ramps up ahead of potential surge

  • Director of Emergency Services Donna Infante demonstrates curbside COVID-19 testing at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Curbside COVID-19 testing at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough on Friday, April 10, 2020. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Curbside COVID-19 testing at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough on Friday, April 10, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Curbside COVID-19 testing at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough on Friday, April 10, 2020. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Curbside COVID-19 testing at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough on Friday, April 10, 2020. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/13/2020 3:56:11 PM

Monadnock Community Hospital is proactively preparing for a surge in patients, recruiting volunteers to staff an alternate care site should it become necessary for treating non-COVID-19 related patients.

“The next week or two are going to be the peak weeks in New Hampshire,” Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker said at a virtual Select Board meeting last Tuesday. The hospital typically has 25 beds available for patients; they’ve increased that to 40, and have a supply of seven ventilators crucial for keeping advanced COVID-19 patients alive.

“I feel good about our plans,” MCH CEO Cyndee McGuire said Friday. “We have increased our beds to 40, we have plans in place for when we hit certain numbers, we certainly feel confident about our ventilator supply right now, and we’re feeling really good about where we are with our personal protective equipment.”

McGuire said the hospital receives shipments of COVID-19 swab tests from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services a couple times a week, meaning there are usually around 100 tests available at a given time for MCH’s curbside testing process. Patients with physician’s orders to be tested pull their vehicles up beside the emergency room, where hospital personnel in full facemask and protective gear perform the test – a long Q-tip-like swab up the nose – before sending it off to the state for results. 

If a test does come back positive, the state contacts the patient and works with them to retrace their steps and determine who may have come in contact with them recently. 

McGuire said she did not feel comfortable sharing how many COVID-19 tests have been performed at the hospital, nor how many positive tests have come back. 

“I think we’ve had ample testing,” she said. 

The hospital is working with Cheshire Medical Center and local communities to develop an alternate care site at Keene State College, one of 14 such sites across the state.

“Hospitals only have a certain number of beds,” Walker said in an interview last Tuesday. If patients exceed the number of beds, due to a spike in severe COVID-19 cases, the people who would be in the hospital regardless of the pandemic still need a place to be treated, he said. The alternate care sites would be there for those people who need nursing care, and volunteers would be doing things that people would do at a healthcare center during regular conditions, he said.

The hospital is looking for volunteers with medical experience, for example, retired nurses or someone with a lapsed EMT license, or a school nurse who is currently out of work, as well as people who could help with recordkeeping, or people with no specialized skills who would be able to assist patients with general tasks. Select Board member Karen Hatcher encouraged residents to sign up with the hospital’s online form, noting that there were many ways for volunteers to help out without being on site, like doing off-site food prep, making phone calls or writing thank you notes.

The hospital is also following CDC and Division of Public Health recommendations and encourages every person who enters the hospital’s main campus or satellite facilities to come wearing a mask or face covering.

“If you don’t have one, they’ll give you one you can wear the entire time,” Vice President of Community Relations and Philanthropy Laura Gingras said.

The community’s cloth mask making and distribution effort has been “incredible,” she said. The hospital has received more than 4,000 masks from the community and the hospital and volunteers are able to provide masks for all area primary care providers. They are still accepting N95 cover-style and deaconess-style masks at their five drop-off locations, she said, and the hospital will communicate with local nursing homes, Crotched Mountain School, EMS personnel and RiverMead on those facilities’ needs.

“As we get more masks and are building up our resources, we also want to be helping others as well,” Gingras said, although currently they’re limiting their scope to medical and nursing personnel. “Any fabric mask that someone makes… everything will be used and appreciated,” she said. “You have no idea how happy they make us.” she said of the masks.

While MCH gears up for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, the hospital’s regular day-to-day operations have come to a halt, and with them, a large chunk of the hospital’s expected revenue.

“Revenue is down between 50 and 60 percent,” McGuire said. “The thing that you do is try to control your expenses, and that’s very challenging, because we actually have to spend more money to ramp up our services.”

Regular doctor visits are now done through telemedicine, no one is needed to staff the operating rooms for surgeries, and services like physical therapy are on hold. About one-third of MCH employees are working from home to support outpatient care; others have been reassigned to the emergency department or other areas that are still essential and functioning. 

McGuire said that the hospital will continue to pay all its employees for at least eight weeks. 

“We made a commitment at the beginning of our journey that we would at least pay all of our employees for eight weeks and right now we are about halfway through that,” she said. 

The hospital is accepting monetary donations on their COVID-19 webpage.

The drive around the rotary into the MCH campus now features a sign on the hillside reading “HEROES WORK HERE,” a small token of appreciation for the doctors, nurses and staff working tirelessly to fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

“They’re the best crew out there,” McGuire said. “We have an amazing team, a lot of creativity, a lot of support for each other. They’re working fast and furious to be prepared on every level, and we do call them heroes.”

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