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From left, Lowell General Hospital VP for hospitality & support services Dudley Abbe gives Governor Charlie Baker and Health & Human Services secretary Marylou Sudders a tour of the new field hospital at the UML Recreation Center, ready for recovering COVID-19 patients, to free up space for regular patients at LGH. (SUN/Julia Malakie)
From left, Lowell General Hospital VP for hospitality & support services Dudley Abbe gives Governor Charlie Baker and Health & Human Services secretary Marylou Sudders a tour of the new field hospital at the UML Recreation Center, ready for recovering COVID-19 patients, to free up space for regular patients at LGH. (SUN/Julia Malakie)
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LOWELL — Although a COVID-19 field hospital located at UMass Lowell and run by Lowell General Hospital had planned to open its doors this week to patients, a shortage of available nurses and medical workers has stalled the opening until Monday.

Initially, the site at UMass Lowell’s Campus Recreation Center was supposed to open in a “soft launch” for only Lowell General Hospital patients this week, with plans to expand access to surrounding area hospitals on Monday. However, staffing shortages forced the hospital staff to delay the opening.

“The most significant challenge was added RN (registered nurse) staffing, and we had hoped to be able to obtain some additional staffing resources this week that fell through,” said Amy Hoey, the hospital’s chief operating officer. Instead, the existing staff is using this week to conduct walkthroughs of the site and review workflows with nurses and doctors ahead of the planned opening on Monday.

While the site has capacity for 77 beds, the facility has so far only recruited enough nurses to staff one 14-bed pod. Each pod requires three nurses and two patient care technologists to tend to patients.

The nursing shortage is “not at all unexpected,” according to Hoey, citing a national trend. To keep the hospital fully staffed, these nurses are hired entirely from outside the hospital system. The hospital has set up a website, lowellgeneralresponds.com, where applicants can apply for these jobs.

The patients admitted to the field hospital, or “alternative care site” as Hoey calls it, are not the sickest COVID-19 patients, but “the lowest acuity patients.” These are patients who are not on ventilators and are stable, and may need to remain in the hospital to finish their treatments of regimens like Remdesivir and Dexamethasone.

The site is equipped with electric hospital beds and has the capability for IV therapy and delivery of up to four liters of oxygen to patients. As The Sun previously reported, the electric beds and the IV capability, along with more sterile vinyl floor coverings and an enhanced electrical plan to provide bedside lighting, are all improvements made over the earlier field hospital set up on that site this spring.

Lowell General Hospital currently has 63 COVID-19 patients at its main campus, which is on par with the average over the last few weeks.

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