WEYMOUTH − With other local hospital closures and a heightened demand for health care, South Shore Hospital is seeing record numbers of patients.
Dr. Jason Tracy, South Shore Health’s vice president and chief medical officer, said December was the busiest month in the hospital's history, with 360 people per day going into the emergency department for care.
“On all accounts, it was the third busiest (emergency department) in the state, and we may end up being the second busiest in the state,” he said. “Those visits translate to people needing to be hospitalized.”
With a license from the state for 374 hospital beds, South Shore Hospital is seeing its “highest ever capacity,” Tracy said, with an average of 500 people admitted. At its peak, the hospital had 560 people admitted for care.
“It’s a very high volume, and people are still coming to our doors looking for treatment,” he said.
Dr. Allen Smith, president and CEO of South Shore Health, said the closure of other area health care facilities in the region in recent years is driving more people to South Shore Hospital for care.
In 2020, Steward Health Care System closed the satellite emergency room at Quincy Medical Center, making Quincy the largest city in the state without one. Steward bought Quincy Medical Center in 2011, and abruptly closed all but the emergency department in 2014.
Norwood Hospital was forced to close because of severe flooding in 2020 and remains closed, and Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital is still closed following a fire in February 2023.
“We offer a range of services, including a Level 3 (neonatal intensive care unit), a Level 2 trauma center, so we’re very busy and our numbers continue to go up,” Smith said. “Our obstetrics department has grown because of the Signature Brockton closure, and our medical surgical unit and ED have been very much front and center for this growth.”
Tracy said the hospital has at least 130 patients come in by ambulance each day, which, by default, typically means the patients are sicker than those arriving on their own. He said they’re also coming from much farther away than ever before.
“We’re seeing ambulances from towns we’ve never received patients from,” he said.
Allen said the complexity of these patients is higher as well, some with three or four active conditions along with behavioral health challenges. As a result, the hospital has had to add treatment spaces to accommodate the additional needs of patients.
Overall, Allen said the community has been “remarkably patient and kind” as the hospital and its staff do their best to meet the needs of patients, who are seen by severity of their condition.
“No one wants to wait for hours to be seen or to wait in a hallway bed,” he said.
The situation isn’t unique to South Shore Hospital as emergency rooms statewide burst at the seams. Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton currently has a banner on its website warning patients that emergency room wait times are much longer than usual.
Officials at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston recently said overcrowding has reached a “full-blown crisis.”
As a result, health insurance providers have agreed to waive prior authorizations for certain admissions to move people through the health care system more quickly.
In a memo Jan. 9, Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh said a shortage of health care workers, limited space in hospitals and a spike in respiratory illnesses have caused a “significant surge.”
Tracy said the entire health care system has limited capacity, from hospitals to primary care physicians.
“Resources have been challenged due to unexpected closures and many in health care struggle with workforce challenges to care for this volume of patients,” he said. “Keep in mind, we’ve added many urgent care centers, and they’re very busy. It’s challenging to know the right locations to go to.”
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