Reaching capacity, Mass General ICU adds more beds amid second COVID surge

BOSTON — As a second wave of COVID-19 packs intensive care units, Massachusetts General Hospital’s ICU has reached capacity, forcing them to create a surge space.

Dr. Kathryn Hibbert, Director of MGH’s Medical Intensive Care Unit and Vice Chair for Critical Care in the Department of Medicine, told Boston 25 News Friday the new surge ICU accommodates 10 additional beds.

“Even in normal times, we’re a very busy hospital,” Hibbert said. “We take care of a lot of patients, and we often operate close to capacity. And during the second wave of COVID, we’re seeing not only more COVID ICU patients who need to be in our critical care units, but we also continue to take care of our other patients who always come to Mass General for their care.”

Hibbert said the hospital has increased staffing to meet demand and keep nurse-patient ratios the same.

“There absolutely will not be a change in quality of care,” Hibbert said. “If you come to MGH, and you end up in the ICU, you will be cared for by all of the specialists who would’ve cared for you before.”

Massachusetts Nurses Association President Katie Murphy, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Boston 25 News her fellow nurses across the state are concerned about ICU capacity and overwhelmed by the second COVID surge.

“I think nurses have seen more deaths and suffering in this past year than they’ve seen in their careers,” Murphy said. “This is causing a huge amount of physical, emotional and moral distress and exhaustion.”

While her own hospital is not at capacity, Murphy fears nurses at some hospitals where the beds are full and staffing has not increased will take on more patients than they can handle.

“If I’m taking care of a patient, and that patient starts to deteriorate – and these COVID patients start to deteriorate very rapidly as far as oxygenation, maybe needing to be turned over on their belly to save their lives,” Murphy said, “what if I have two other patients, what if I have three other patients, and one of those patients also starts to deteriorate?”

Hibbert encouraged people who are ill but not experiencing an emergency to work with their primary care doctor to get the appropriate care outside the emergency room setting. But she urged those who are experiencing an emergency to go to the ER right away before an illness becomes severe.

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