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MGH begins to shift some resources as COVID-19 cases decline

With the peak in cases behind it, the hospital is returning some beds and staffers to their original roles.

Ambulances pull up to Massachusetts General Hospital on April 20, 2020.
Ambulances pull up to Massachusetts General Hospital on April 20, 2020.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Massachusetts General Hospital said Sunday that it is beginning to return some resources to normal use that were devoted to intensive care for COVID-19 patients, as cases at the hospital have begun to decline following their peak about two weeks ago.

Ann Prestipino, a senior vice president at MGH who has been overseeing the hospital’s response to the novel coronavirus, said the hospital is currently caring for about 200 patients with the virus. At its height, that number was higher than 400.

Prestipino said some general care units and some surgery recovery areas that were being used to help coronavirus patients are now being restored to their regular uses. Some staff members who were redeployed as part of the pandemic response are also returning to their normal jobs.

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She said the shift is a hopeful sign, but one to take with caution. She said the decline in cases could last two or three times longer than the time it took for them to reach their peak.

“This is not over yet,” Prestipino said in an interview with the Globe Sunday. “We’re still seeing new COVID patients come in, although the rates have slowed.”

Statewide data reported by the Department of Public Health show total COVID-19 hospitalizations last week fell below 3,000 patients for the first time since at least mid-April. After about two weeks of declines, the latest available count showed 2,692 people hospitalized around the state, down from a high of nearly 4,000.

Prestipino said the COVID-19 patients who remain at MGH are “quite sick and are going to be with us for a while, although we’re very happy that many are recovering,” Prestipino said. Meanwhile, the hospital is trying to deal with a parallel challenge: Some non-coronavirus patients who had been able to put off procedures nine weeks are no longer able to wait for the treatment they need.

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MGH continues to use the emergency field hospital at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center to care for COVID-19 patients who are recovering but still require extensive medical care.

A return to normal operations could help hospitals around the country recover from the devastating financial consequences of not being able perform services that generate critical revenue. Prestipino said MGH has done its best in limiting the effect, but she added, “the money has been secondary to doing the right thing in taking care of patients.”

Prestipino said she believes the strict social distancing measures enacted by Governor Charlie Baker may have helped to slow the spread of the virus and limit the intensity of the peak.

She emphasized that the government response is outside of her area of expertise, but said she hopes that Baker will continue to proceed deliberately when he unveils his phased plan for reopening the economy on Monday.

“It takes an abundance of caution, and we have to go very slowly and very carefully,” Prestipino said. “We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.