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Hospitals brace for ‘surge’ in pandemic cases, abdominal pain added to symptoms

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Area hospitals are warning that the number of COVID-19 patients is likely to worsen over the next few weeks as they prepare to add beds and seek more protective equipment.

They are also cautioning that more patients are adding adominal pain to the list of COVID-19 symptons.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer of Hartford HealthCare, said the hospitals need more protective equipment, capacity and staffing as the community braces for a surge of COVID-19 patients over the next several weeks.

“There is a community spread right now,” Kumar told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. “It is happening in all the areas of Connecticut. We are going to see a peak for next several weeks. “We’re hoping it will plateau out after that.”

Hartford HealthCare, the parent company of Meriden’s MidState Medical Center and the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain and Southington, has been reevaluating space and equipment at its seven hospitals and other facilities for possible redundancies and ways to ensure there is adequate room for increased volume.

A decision to postpone elective surgeries has helped free up 200 rooms across the system, and patients moving to virtual appointments has also improved capacity, Kumar said.  

The network has received small donations of masks, swabs, gowns,and gloves and is waiting for larger donations. It has carefully distributed those supplies in preparation for an increase in patients. Gov. Ned Lamont’s office has requested shipments of larger supplies, but the hospital is collecting its own and watching waste.

“The production is not up to speed at this time and that’s creating delays as well,” Kumar said.

Further complicating matters are changes to reported symptoms and screening for testing. Abdominal pain and diarrhea have been added to the list of COVID-19 symptoms, along with fever, chest pain and shortness of breath.

Hartford HealthCare and other hospitals have been looking at ways to increase space for several weeks.

“We are asking who can work in other rooms and areas we don’t normally place people,” Kumar said.

The hospital network has also developed a system that allows two patients to share a ventilator in the event of an emergency, and training critical care teams in its use. 

“We are not at the point of using this,” said Saimir Sharofi, director of respiratory services, Hartford Hospital. “I’m hoping we’re not going to get to that point but we’re ready.”

The state Office of Health Strategy is providing waivers to hospitals to address space needs that would allow them to temporarily open other facilities without applying for a Certificate of Need which can take up to 18 months. The waivers will last the duration of Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency order. 

Fiona Phelan, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association, told the Connecticut Mirror last week, hospitals are working together on an ongoing basis to evaluate capacity.

“This includes understanding evolving federal guidance on patient care standards, assessing the range of potential clinical needs a patient may have and determining the ability to expand capacity based on equipment and space,” she told the Mirror. “Hospitals are working directly with the state … and they have been good partners in responding to hospital need, such as additional masks, approval of alternate testing sites, and flexibility in existing telehealth requirements.”

Hartford HealthCare currently has 23 patients who have tested positive, and 133 patients waiting for results. It is also treating COVID-19 patients at home. 

Kumar said he’s hopeful the virus will diminish in the summer months, but because it’s a new virus, its survival and demise are unpredictable. He expects a treatment by the fall. It’s critical the public continues to practice good hygiene and social distance in the upcoming weeks. 

“This is not a time to panic, but is a time to prepare as never before,” Kumar said. “It’s going to get worse. We are going to see increased cases. Hospital systems are preparing very well.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

Updated: March 24, 2020

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