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Carney Hospital in Dorchester establishing COVID-19 treatment center

Carney Hospital in Dorchester has set aside a dedicated patient ward for treatment of people infected with Covid-19.
Carney Hospital in Dorchester has set aside a dedicated patient ward for treatment of people infected with Covid-19.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Carney Hospital is transforming a floor of its Dorchester site into a “hospital within a hospital” dedicated solely to treating people infected with COVID-19, the potentially deadly coronavirus that has swept the world, officials said Tuesday.

“We are looking at a historic event, that is clearly unprecedented in my 35 years of working in medicine,” said Dr. Joseph Weinstein, Chief Medical Officer of Steward Health Care System, which operates the hospital. “We believe that this is the first dedicated unit on an inpatient basis dedicated solely to COVID-19.”

Steward, a for-profit company that operates 35 hospitals in 9 states, has been preparing for the pandemic in three stages. Officials said in an announcement that the company has stockpiled respiratory and other equipment health care providers need to help infectious patients, and has launched “drive through” COVID-19 tents in Utah and Florida. Weinstein said that starting this week, three of its facilities in Massachusetts have begun offering drive through virus testing, and another has walk-in testing.

At Carney, the changes are bigger. Patients in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit will be treated in negative pressure rooms, completely segregated from patients who do not have the virus to prevent transmission. They will be tended to by a designated team of doctors, and have their own negative pressure operating room. Weinstein said that data out of China showed that patients who received care from doctors who dealt exclusively with coronavirus had better outcomes.

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Right now, Weinstein said, the unit has 11 beds, and is treating five people who are being tested for COVID-19. Any patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19 who enters any Steward hospital in Massachusetts will be sent to Carney. The hospital has the capacity to expand the unit if the number of patients surges, and Steward is ready for the possibility that it will need to begin creating similar units in other hospitals.

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“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” said Weinstein.

The health care company, which manages 7,000 hospital beds nationwide, said that by creating a separate environment for COVID-19 patients, patients with other illness or chronic health concerns will still be able to get the care they need at Steward hospitals. The company said individual doctors will decide when and how to provide care for their patients.

"Steward will continue our scheduled treatments and procedures, at the discretion of surgeons and physicians in consultation with their patients,'' the company said.

The set-aside for COVID-19 patients also means the Carney can continue to safely operate its emergency room for non-COVID-19 patients, the company said. " Our responsibility is to determine how to most effectively care for COVID-19 patients while continuing to provide exceptional care to our communities and keep patients healthy and well," the company said.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.