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Hospitals tap retirees while preparing additional space for COVID-19 surge

Hospitals tap retirees while preparing additional space for COVID-19 surge

reporter photo

Hartford HealthCare announced a partnership Wednesday with Trinity College to use its hockey arena for a hospital area to treat a projected surge in COVID-19 infected patients.

It is also preparing to use other locations within its network or in community partnerships and private businesses, such as hotels.

The search for space is one way Hartford HealthCare grapples with the expected surge over the next several days or weeks. It is also planning to bring in retired workers. 

“We have gone from preparation to mitigation,” Keith Grant, senior system director for Infectious Diseases Prevention at Hartford HealthCare, told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

“We are now in surge planning. We have limited capacity. What we expect to see over the next few days and weeks is a significant increase in cases. We have to be prepared for this at all levels.”

The deal with Trinity College allows Hartford HealthCare to convert the arena at the Koppel Community Sports Center to a hospital area if needed.

"Our community has not wavered in the face of these unprecedented times. I am incredibly grateful to the support of Trinity College and the Waterford Group. It's this spirit of partnership that will help us through dark days," said Jeffrey A. Flaks, president and Chief Executive Officer of Hartord HealthCare.

As of Thursday, Hartford HealthCare was treating 19 confirmed COVID-19 patients within its seven hospital network. Two patients are at MidState Medical Center in Meriden and six patients are at the Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. The total number of infected patients in the Hartford HealthCare system has risen to 19. 

If the pandemic spreads geographically, Hartford HealthCare is prepared to ask retired nurses and other health care workers to return, Grant said. 

If we are “expanding capacity from a geographic or space perspective, we’re also going to need to expand our resources,” Grant said. “We’ll need a lot of resources from the community. A lot of colleagues we’ll be calling back.” 

Hartford HealthCare also has an agreement with the city of Hartford to use two buildings to isolate homeless people awaiting test results or experiencing symptoms. The state Department of Housing is working on plans to end congregate housing at smaller shelters during the emergency, possibly through the use of motels or hotels. Priority is being given to shelter guests over age 60.

The pandemic is the first for the medical and nursing teams at Hartford HealthCare but the fact that it developed in foreign countries helped the network prepare for its spread, Grant said. It has also deepened the bonds between the workers who are working long shifts apart from their families,

“There are discussions about how much we haven’t seen our family in a long time,” Grant said. “We’ve been away from them to ensure your families are safe. This community has gotten much closer than I’ve ever seen.  Alliances we are forming. If we maintain that we have a very bright future going forward.”

Audrey Scott, assistant nurse manager of the emergency department at Hartford Hospital told reporters the department thrives on teamwork and finding ways to make staff and patients safe. Instead of preparation, the emergency rooms are screening and treating patients with staff at the highest levels of expertise.

Two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 infections that were not hospital-acquired, Grant said. 

Scott added the nursing staff is appreciative of the community support and news coverage of its efforts.

“We see it and hear it,” Scott said. “And we say thank you for supporting us. We will continue to be here for you.”

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

Updated: March 26, 2020