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Emerson Hospital president & CEO Christine Schuster, R.N., MBA; chief medical officer Barry Kitch, M.D., right; and chief operating officer Eric Stastny, left. Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun
Emerson Hospital president & CEO Christine Schuster, R.N., MBA; chief medical officer Barry Kitch, M.D., right; and chief operating officer Eric Stastny, left. Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun
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CONCORD — Emerson Hospital’s 179 beds are not all full.

Surgeries are being performed and, as of Friday, there were only four COVID-19 inpatients at the Concord hospital.

But officials at the hospital, founded in 1911, say the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on its staff and there is a palpable sense that the next couple of months, as summer turns into fall and then winter, are going to be difficult, especially with the delta variant raging.

“Our emergency room has been very busy,” said Christine Schuster, Emerson’s president and CEO. “(But) we have plenty of beds.”

A University of Washington model predicts that approximately 1,300 deaths in Massachusetts by Dec. 1 — and 50,000 deaths nationwide — could be avoided if a universal mask mandate is adopted.

Fatigue is a major obstacle. Fatigue from a public weary from wearing masks and social distancing. There is also a fatigue factor facing hospital employees. The last 17 months have been a nonstop grind.

“I do worry about our workforce,” said Eric Stastny, senior vice president of operations and chief operating officer. “You can see it in their faces. You can tell at times they’re completely fried. They’re looking forward to the end (of the pandemic). That’s the hardest thing we’re dealing with right now.”

Schuster said Emerson is cognizant of the challenges doctors, nurses, front desk staff — well, all employees — are facing.

The hospital has offered salary increases in some cases and stepped up its recruitment efforts. One space is designated for those who need quiet time.

“We have definitely seen the stress and strain on our staff. There are staffing shortages across the country, not just Massachusetts. It’s a huge concern for us,” Schuster said.

But not all news is negative.

The Sun spoke with Emerson officials Monday, the day Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“The battle continues. We’re better equipped than we’ve ever been. We have the (personal protective equipment) we need. We have the potential to vaccine more individuals than ever,” said Dr. Barry Kitch, the senior vice president of clinical affairs and chief medical officer.

Like other hospitals across the world, Emerson has learned over the last 17 months what works during a pandemic.

Wearing a mask. Social distancing. Washing hands. And “communicate, communicate, communicate,” Schuster said.

“Following the science is critical. Science is continually updated,” Kitch said.

Fall and winter will present more challenges, when the weather turns colder and more people gather indoors.

Schuster said her biggest fear is that elective surgeries will have to be “closed down” if COVID-19 cases spike this fall and winter.

“I’m hoping that won’t be the case,” she said.

Emerson recently announced all of its employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, though most already are.

“We think it’s the right thing to do to keep our patients and staff safe. Vaccines save lives. We’re in the business of saving lives,” Schuster said.

Some patients elected to cancel procedures when they learned Emerson had no vaccine mandate.

“That was a very bright light for us,” Schuster said.

Schuster said the delta variant is “worrisome,” especially with area schools on the verge of opening and colder weather lurking around the corner.

“We’re definitely concerned about the delta variant. We’re hoping people get vaccinated and then get the booster shot,” she said.

The fact that the delta variant is more transmissible is a concern, according to Kitch, but those in the medical field have learned that wearing masks is an effective way to battle the coronavirus.

“It’s better now than it was a year ago,” Schuster said. “We’re so close to turning the corner if we all get on the same page.”

Getting on the same page means getting vaccinated. Schuster said Emerson is fortunate compared to other hospitals because Massachusetts is one of the most vaccinated states in the country.

“It’s important to be vaccinated,” Schuster said. “We try to educate folks.”

Emerson has held Town Hall meetings and shared the latest science updates with the community. People who weren’t vaccinated have died at the hospital from COVID-19.

“What we have to do is keep the dialogue open,” Kitch said.

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