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New Hampshire continues to have the highest number of daily COVID cases per capita than anywhere else in the United States and the surge shows no signs of slowing. Hospitals across the state are now bearing the consequences.
Large swaths of the state are now without any staffed, available intensive care unit beds, according to data from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS bunches hospitals into groups when it reports capacity data. The hospital groups are as follows:
1-93 Corridor: Catholic Medical Center, Concord Hospital, Elliot Hospital, Concord Hospital- Franklin, Concord Hospital- Laconia, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital, Hampstead Hospital, Northeast Rehabilitation (Salem), New Hampshire Hospital, Parkland Medical Center, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, Speare Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital
North Country: Androscoggin Valley Hospital, Cottage Hospital, Littleton Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital, Weeks Medical Center
Seacoast: Exeter Hospital, Frisbie Memorial Hospital, Huggins Hospital, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
Upper Valley and Southwest: Alice Peck Day Memorial hospital, Cheshire Medical Center, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Monadnock Community Hospital, New London Hospital, Valley Regional Hospital
Two hospital groups— Upper Valley and North Country— have no staffed ICU beds available, according to state data.
Statewide, that brings the percentage of available ICU beds to about 3% — a drastic departure from this summer when about 15% of ICU beds were open. During the surge in winter 2020, the ICU capacity never dipped below 10%.
Though the NH Hospital Association does not keep data on how many patients have been transferred out of state due to capacity challenges, a spokesperson for the association said they know anecdotally that patients have been transferred as far away as Connecticut and New York to receive treatment. Concord Hospital alone transferred five patients Thursday due to capacity challenges.
Concord is faring better than other parts of the state.
On Friday, Concord Hospital was operating at 92% capacity, said Matt Johnson, a spokesperson for the hospital. Though hospital officials anticipate the capacity to become more dire after the holidays, he said for now staff is “cautiously optimistic.” He also described ICU capacity as “very good,” compared to earlier in the surge.
The dearth of hospital beds is brought on by both a rapid increase in COVID-related hospitalizations and a shortage of licensed hospital workers. To address the latter, the state announced Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will bring roughly 24 workers, including nurses, doctors, and other professionals, as early as this weekend.
N.H. Department of Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the added staff will be used to help Elliot Hospital in Manchester reopen a wing that is currently not staffed, according to a Wednesday briefing by state officials. Gov. Chris Sununu also said roughly 30 paramedics would be brought in by FEMA by the end of next week and assigned to hospitals with the highest COVID-19 burden.
Health officials have emphasized that those who are sick should still go to hospitals for treatment. However, those who are not in urgent need of attention should instead call their primary providers for medical care.
Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.
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