Massachusetts Lost Around 500 Hospital Beds in 2021 As Facilities Lack Enough Staff

Massachusetts has lost around 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds in 2020 as the state's health care system experiences a staffing shortage, state officials said.

To help understaffed hospitals combat an increase in COVID patients, Massachusetts National Guard members have begun to be deployed to those hospitals in need Monday.

Last week, Governor Charlie Baker announced that a maximum of 500 Guard members would be deployed for up to 90 days to assist 55 acute care hospitals and 12 ambulance service providers in nonclinical support.

"There's no question the next few weeks will be enormously difficult for our health care community," Baker said, the Associated Press reported.

UMass Memorial Health spokesperson Debora Spano said almost 20 Guard members underwent orientation Monday morning before deployment to several hospitals run by the Worcester-based health system.

The first deployment of a maximum of 300 Guard members is scheduled to assist at regional facilities, like Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital and Milford Regional Medical Center, to some of the state's biggest medical facilities, such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, a list from the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services shows, according to the AP.

Last week, there were three days that recorded over 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID, a pandemic high due to the Omicron variant, according to the latest data from the state Department of Public Health. The data also shows that almost 1,600 people were in the hospital with COVID.

As of Christmas Eve, the department had over 980,000 reported COVID cases, with a death toll of 19,604 as of Friday, WCVB-TV reported.

"We are in a period of explosive growth, unfortunately," Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron said, according to WCVB-TV. "The holidays couldn't have been more poorly timed."

"...If I were a betting girl, I would say that we are headed for a period of very, very high cases and then potentially, that will turn around quickly," said Doron, WCVB-TV reported.

Massachusetts, Omicron, COVID Surge, Staffing Shortage
Last week, there were three days that recorded over 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID, a pandemic high due to the Omicron variant, according to the latest data from the state Department of Public Health. In this photo, medical staff put on protective wear including N95 mask, goggles and hospital smocks before going through an air lock and entering the hot zone to treat patients the UMASS Memorial DCU Center Field Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 13, 2021. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The Guard members will provide support in five critical areas identified by the state based on a survey of hospitals and ambulance services: non-emergency transportation between health care facilities; observing patients at risk for harming themselves; security and maintaining a safe workplace; moving patients within hospitals, such as bringing them from their rooms to test areas; and delivering meals to patients in their rooms.

Another directive from state health officials originally announced last week—the postponement or cancellation of all nonessential elective procedures likely to result in admission—also took effect Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Massachusetts National Guard, Hospitals, Staff Shortage
UMass Memorial Health spokesperson Debora Spano said almost 20 National Guard members underwent orientation December 27, 2021, before deployment to several hospitals ran by the Worcester-based health system. In this photo, Massachusetts National Guard Soldiers and Airmen discuss operations while they have a lull in the line for vaccinations at an East Boston Neighborhood Health Center Vaccination Clinic in East Boston, Massachusetts. on February 16, 2021. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images