Health and Science

Covid patients at some Rhode Island facilities already being moved to field hospital, CEO says

Key Points
  • "We have plenty of ICU capacity. We have plenty of ventilator capacity. However, our regular med surge beds are full," Lifespan CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau told CNBC.
  • Rhode Island's Covid-19 outbreak is "headed in the wrong direction," he added.
  • Babineau also raised concerns about maintaining adequate staffing in the coming weeks.
Covid vaccine can be distributed within hours of approval, says Lifespan CEO

Some coronavirus patients in Rhode Island have been moved to a field hospital due to standard facilities reaching bed capacity, according to the CEO of the state's largest health network.

The field hospital, located at the Rhode Island Convention Center, has nearly 600 beds and will take patients who are not critically ill.

"We have plenty of ICU capacity. We have plenty of ventilator capacity. However, our regular med surge beds are full" with Covid-19 patients, Lifespan CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau said Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

That's why Lifespan set up the additional hospital bed capacity at the convention center, which is in Providence, Babineau said. It opened Tuesday. "As of yesterday, we're already transporting patients from the main campuses to the field hospital," he said. "Unfortunately, Rhode Island is headed in the wrong direction," he added.

Hospitalizations in Rhode Island overall are at a record high, according to a CNBC analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by The Atlantic magazine. There are currently 410 Covid-19 patients hospitalized, and the state's seven-day average of 354 hospitalized patients is up nearly 21% compared with a week ago, CNBC's analysis found.

The Lifespan Alternative Hospital, which will soon be in operation, is set up at the Rhode Island Convention Center during the continuing coronavirus pandemic, in Providence, R.I. on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.
Pat Greenhouse | The Boston Globe | AP

In addition to Rhode Island, there are 36 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., where coronavirus hospitalizations are increasing. The intensifying U.S. outbreak has the potential to get even worse, health officials have said, in the wake of Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings in December. The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Tuesday warned of a "surge upon a surge," which could further strain hospital capacities across the U.S.

In Rhode Island, a two-week pause to the state's reopening efforts went into effect Monday. The restrictions include the shutdown of bars while restaurants have to operate at one-third capacity. In-person class for kindergarten through eighth grade will continue.

Babineau said he expects the state's intense outbreak to continue in the near term, and he expressed worries about the burden being placed on health-care workers, which he called "the heroes of this pandemic." He added, "They're on the front lines but they're getting a little battle weary,."

"One of our biggest concerns, one of our biggest priorities, is adequate staffing and making sure that our staff are protected, that they have what they need. That's going to be probably the biggest challenge for the next couple weeks," Babineau said, mirroring concerns expressed recently by hospital leaders in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Staffing levels will play a critical role in determining how many patients are sent to the Rhode Island field hospital, Lifespan's chief nursing executive, Cathy Duquette, told The Associated Press.

"We are prepared to take up to 100 patients with the staff we have been able to get. If we see demand increasing, we will certainly reach out to get more from our agency partners," she said in an AP story published Tuesday.

Care New England, another health-care system in the state, also opened a field hospital this week in Cranston for patients who are not critically ill, The Providence Journal reported. It has 353 beds.

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