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Baystate Health optimizing preparedness in case of COVID-19 surge

  • PAEZ

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2021 5:22:04 PM

With COVID-19 cases and the number of hospitalizations beginning to climb once again, Baystate Health has “increased activity” of what it refers to as its “incident command reconnaissance team.”

Incident command, which aims to manage disasters in a non-chaotic way, according to Baystate Health, includes managing communication, staffing, hospital operations and clinical planning education, for example.

“It never went away, but the activity has increased,” said Dr. Armando Paez, head of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, who is involved in the clinical planning and education team of incident command.

New people have been brought on to “optimize preparedness” in the case of a potential COVID-19 surge.

As of Friday morning, Paez said 42 COVID-19-positive patients are being hospitalized at Baystate Health’s facilities, including Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. That’s compared to 26 patients one week ago and 19 patients two weeks ago. Although they are mostly unvaccinated individuals, Paez said, it does vary. Many of the patients, he added, are elderly individuals who may have other medical conditions.

“As other hospitals are also experiencing, we are having an increase in the number of hospitalized patients,” he said. “That is along with the increasing number of cases in the state as well as in the county, based on what the (state Department of Public Health) is releasing.”

According to the state Department of Public Health, Franklin County, in particular, has seen a higher percent positivity rate in the last two weeks (accounting for July 25 to Aug. 7), compared to the previous two-week period, with 67 total positive cases out of 4,765 tests.

Paez said in addition to elderly folks, the younger population is now a concern, especially with students returning to school in the fall.

“We anticipate with the cooler months coming, fall and winter, as well as the kids going back to school — many of the kids are unvaccinated — that there may be a potential surge,” he said. “Not as big as before, but time will tell because of this Delta variant.”

The good news, he said, is that as of Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a booster shot for immunocompromised patients.

As for what guides the hospital system’s response to the pandemic, Paez said analytics play a key role.

“We want to make sure we have enough (personal protective equipment, and) we have enough treatments available for our patients who may be admitted with COVID-19,” he said. “We are also, at the same time, optimizing vaccinations as well, not only with our employees … but we also are offering vaccinations in the hospital for hospitalized patients who are otherwise eligible for COVID-91 vaccinations.”

Late last month, Baystate Health announced it would require all employed staff of the hospital — including those working remotely, clinical staff, contractors, volunteers and students — to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. At the time of the announcement on July 26, 75 percent of staff and volunteers had been vaccinated.

“The rate of COVID-19 infection in the U.S. is rising in all 50 states, including Massachusetts,” Baystate Health President and CEO Mark Keroack wrote in a letter to the Baystate Health community. “Our community is at risk of experiencing a fourth pandemic wave, and cases would be concentrated in unvaccinated individuals and would likely result in more severe illness due to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.”

Paez said Baystate Health continues to require masks insides its buildings, and plans to increase its efforts in educating its workforce, especially given that Baystate Medical Center in Springfield is a teaching hospital and many of its new employees may not have seen COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, the monoclonal antibody treatment program, which started in December, is still active, he said, offering a treatment option for recently diagnosed individuals with high risk for severe disease.

“We have treated more than 300 patients with this,” he said. “With the low number of cases these past couple of months, we didn’t really treat anyone until we started experiencing a surge again.”

Telehealth — virtual medical appointments — is still offered to patients, and depending on the severity of a possible surge, might return to the degree it was used at the start of the pandemic.

“What’s different now from before is that we have a vaccinated population now,” he said, though he noted herd immunity likely hasn’t been reached.

Paez said the hospital system has “doubled (its) efforts” to vaccinate people; in particular, it hopes to reach populations with lower vaccination rates than others, including people of color.

“We’re still vaccinating people,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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