St. Luke's Hospital.

NEW BEDFORD — Southcoast Health is experiencing high volumes of patients, and in rare cases has directed individuals to receive care at other facilities.

Chris McCarthy, a well-known local talk-radio host who fought COVID-19 for 60-days at St. Luke’s Hospital this past winter and spring, said he was sent to Northshore Medical Center in Salem after there were no available ICU beds at the New Bedford facility on Sept. 16 or 17. “They said I need you to be in an ICU unit. The closest one we can find is in Salem,” he said.

He was experiencing kidney failure but has since stabilized after undergoing dialysis and steroid treatment.

He expects to be transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.


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Southcoast Health, due to federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) law, does not comment on individual medical cases. But after The New Bedford Light asked if the system was experiencing a high volume of cases causing them to redirect patients, administrators acknowledged they are.

“Like hospitals and health systems around the region and across the country, Southcoast Health is currently experiencing high numbers of admitted patients, and in rare circumstances, there are various clinical and operational factors — most importantly, what’s best for our patients — that could compel staff to explore additional options for care at other facilities, including those within our own system,” the statement read. It was issued by Shawn Badgley, the three-hospital consortium’s public information officer.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, the vast majority of both ICU and medical/surgical beds were occupied in every region of the state as of Sept. 23.

Click to view the full interactive dashboard.

The number of available ICU beds in Southeastern Mass., at 27.9%, was slightly better than either in Metro Boston or statewide, which were at 13.7% and 20.3% respectively.

The number of available medical/surgical beds were even fewer than the available ICU beds in most regions of the state. The available number in Southeastern Mass., at 8.8%, was slightly better than in Metro Boston, which was at 5.4%, but slightly worse than the state as a whole, which was at 9.2%.

The statement released by Southcoast Friday said that during the pandemic the hospital group had admitted patients from other facilities when circumstances required it.

The statement did not respond specifically to a question from The Light as to whether Southcoast had recently transferred ICU patients to other facilities. It also did not address whether the situation was limited to St. Luke’s, or is also occurring at its hospitals in Fall River (Charlton Memorial) and Wareham (Tobey).

It also did not answer a question as to when the situation started.

In an interview last week, Dr. Dani Hackner, Southcoast Health’s physician-in-chief, said the local health system was not experiencing an inability to accept ICU patients as has happened in places like Idaho and parts of the South. But he acknowledged that pandemic surges in other parts of the country were causing a shortage of medical staff locally.

“Southcoast is really feeling the tremendous disruption that COVID is creating,” Hackner said.

The statement issued late Friday afternoon said the system is grateful to all patients and visitors for their continued understanding throughout the public health crisis caused by the pandemic.

“We commend Southcoast’s courageous frontline nurses, providers and support teams for their enduring dedication to serving southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island with high-quality care close to home,” the Southcoast statement said. “And we encourage everyone to get vaccinated and to seek the care you need when you need it.”

Last week, Badgley, also responding to an inquiry from The Light, said that some 500 of Southcoast’s 2,700-plus employees had not yet been vaccinated.

Hackner said the hospital group was embarking on a three-part process to comply with the Biden administration’s directive that all employers of more than 100 people must require vaccinations. Southcoast is in the midst of an education program and will move on to bring people into compliance with the requirement. In the third phase, unvaccinated individuals who do not have a valid religious or medical exemption will not be able to work on site.

Hackner was not available for comment Friday, being “flat out” with rounds and calls.

Officials with Steward Health Care, which operates Hawthorn Medical Associates in Dartmouth, St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River and Morton Hospital in Taunton, did not respond to The Light’s inquiry about ICU beds when contacted Friday.

On Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported that UMass Memorial Health Center, the largest hospital system in Central Massachusetts, had run out of ICU beds as the result of critically ill patients deferring care during the COVID pandemic, as well as the number of COVID patients needing care.

Email Jack Spillane at jspillane@newbedfordlight.org.

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