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WOW bus comes to Baystate Franklin to offer COVID-19 treatment

  • Registered nurse Jeremiah Berlin, who is treating COVID-19 patients in the Wellness On Wheels (WOW) bus at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, talks with Paula Brooks, director of advanced practitioners at Baystate Health, and Assistant Nurse Manager Stephanie Johnson on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Registered nurse Jeremiah Berlin, who is treating COVID-19 patients in the Wellness On Wheels (WOW) bus at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, talks with Paula Brooks, director of advanced practitioners at Baystate Health, and Assistant Nurse Manager Stephanie Johnson on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Wellness On Wheels (WOW) bus was at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield to treat COVID-19 patients on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2022 4:59:30 PM
Modified: 1/12/2022 4:58:38 PM

GREENFIELD — Treatment may be an option for those in the region who have tested positive with COVID-19 and are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.

That’s because Baystate Health’s Wellness on Wheels (WOW) bus, which has been used in the past year to distribute vaccines, has been repurposed as a monoclonal antibody infusion suite to treat recently diagnosed COVID-19 patients at high risk for developing severe disease.

Monoclonal antibodies, which are given through an IV, mimic the immune system’s ability to fight infection, according to Baystate Health.

“This is a treatment for those that are sick and to prevent them from getting sicker,” explained Paula Brooks, director of advanced practitioners at Baystate Health. “They must continue to self-isolate because this does not cure the infection, so they’re still contagious.”

The WOW bus will typically operate at Baystate Franklin Medical Center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, though it will also be on site Friday this week. Twelve patients can be accommodated per day, with appointments available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

According to Brooks, Baystate Health started monoclonal antibody infusions at Baystate Health in Springfield in December 2020 before expanding the program to Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield last February.

“At Noble, our capacity has increased; we can infuse up to 42 patients a day,” Brooks said. “Now, we see a need in a northern part of the state, here in Greenfield.”

In looking for a site, Brooks said, there wasn’t an ideal location for isolating patients from the general population. That’s where the idea of using the WOW bus came in. It’s staffed by advanced practice providers and nurses.

Once a patient receives a referral — which can be either a self-referral or through a primary care provider — they become part of a pool that is reviewed by the Division of Infectious Disease at Baystate, and a tiered approach is used to determine which patients are eligible. Once a list of names is created, patients are called and asked for their consent to treatment.

“We ask them questions about their symptoms, and when they tested positive,” she said. “We explain to them a little about the infusion and the process of what they go through, and have patients ask any questions we can answer.”

When patients arrive to the bus, which is located outside Baystate Franklin’s Surgical Center on Sanderson Street, they park in a designated location and call to let someone know they’ve arrived. Verbal consent is provided again, and the patient’s oxygen levels are checked. The antibody treatment is a one-time, 30-minute infusion, Brooks explained, followed by an hourlong observation period.

Once they receive the infusion, patients — if they haven’t already — cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine for 90 days.

Brooks said she anticipates the bus will be on site at Baystate Franklin at least through February.

“It’s really going to depend on the spikes,” she said.

As of Tuesday, the Baystate Health system had 311 COVID-19 patients — the highest number of patients to date, Dr. Armando Paez, head of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, said in a previous interview.

Those patients, Paez noted, tend to stay longer, occupying beds that may otherwise go to non-COVID patients who require hospitalization.

“This is to help prevent hospitalizations,” Brooks emphasized. “This is to prevent patients from progressing to worsening symptoms. These are the higher-risk patients that would be hospitalized otherwise.”

In a trial for the antibody used at Baystate Health — called sotrovimab — 1% of test participants had disease leading to hospitalization or death, compared to 7% in the placebo group. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Brooks said Baystate had previously been using other approved antibody treatments, but switched to sotrovimab at the end of December.

“We switched over to sotrovimab … because the others were not effective against the omicron,” Brooks noted.

Registered nurse Stephanie Johnson, assistant nurse manager and clinical educator for surgical services, said the availability of the treatment is “an incredible opportunity for Franklin County.”

“It does make me feel hopeful that we’ll be providing this treatment that has been shown to keep patients out of the hospital,” she said. “It’s not only helping us in the hospital not get overloaded, it’s helping to have beds for other patients as well.”

Johnson, who is serving in a leadership role at the treatment site, said she can’t speak highly enough about the nurses working on the bus.

“They’re a really good team,” she said. “They work well together.”

Brooks added that she knows the nurses, who have been redeployed from various departments of the hospital, “can handle anything that comes their way.”

“We’re so lucky to have this bus here,” Johnson said, “and to keep care local.”

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


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