© 2022 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
NEPM Header Banner
PBS. NPR. Local Perspective.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Despite COVID lull, Baystate 'very busy' amid staffing challenges and mental health bed shortage

Baystate Health CEO Mark Keroack.
Don Treeger
The Republican / masslive.com/photos
Baystate Health CEO Mark Keroack.

A lot has changed in two months when it comes to COVID-19 in western Massachusetts.

In early January, hospitals run by Baystate Health had as many as 320 patients testing positive for the disease.

As of Wednesday, that number is 39.

NEPM's Adam Frenier spoke with Baystate Health's president and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack to learn more about the decrease in cases.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: With so many communities pulling back on restrictions like mask mandates, how careful do we need to be?

Dr. Mark Keroack, Baystate Health CEO: Well, I think it depends on who you are and where you are. I think if you're somebody who's been fully vaccinated and boosted, and you're in the company of others who are in that same category, you can feel very comfortable.

The rules are a little bit different — or at least the cautions, I should say, are a little bit different — for people who aren't vaccinated. And those are still people who could get pretty sick, because there is still some virus in the community, although a lot less.

And similarly, people who have been vaccinated and boosted but might be in a high risk group — if you're in a large, crowded area where you're not sure that everyone else is vaccinated, you'll probably need to be a bit careful as well.

I'd like to go back to the situation with the hospitals for a moment. They're not obviously as busy right now, but do you prepare while things are less busy with an eye on another surge if there is to be one?

Well, let me just correct a little bit of what you said to begin with. We are very busy. We're actually operating at 10% over our licensed bed capacity. We have 1,072 people in the hospital and we're licensed for 970. And these are all folks — the great majority, of course, don't have COVID, have some other kind of a problem.

And the overall rate at which we've been able to progress patients through the hospital has slowed down, because the capacity of home care agencies and nursing homes has gone down. So things are still busy and still hopping.

But with respect to your question about preparing for the next pandemic, Baystate Health actually has a special pathogens team that's led by our hospital epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Haessler. She kind of keeps her eye on all the different unusual diseases that are brewing all across the world. And they were warning us about COVID even back in January of 2020. And so we were able to get ready a little ahead of time.

With the virus at least backing off, what are some challenges Baystate as a system still has to face?

Well, we have this issue of crowding and throughput that I mentioned earlier, which is just a kind of slowing down of the rate at which patients move through the system.

We are still very short on staff. We have about 1,800 positions among our 13,000 employees, and we're bringing on nearly 100 new people each and every week. So we've been recruiting like mad.

The other thing that remains an issue, and I think in the wake of COVID, is the burden of behavioral health care. Across the state, there are more than 600 people waiting for a behavioral health bed to open somewhere in the state. And here in western Mass., that number is roughly 50. And, you know, it could be 20 to 30 of them waiting in Baystate emergency rooms, typically because all of the existing units are filled.

And Baystate broke ground on a behavioral health center in Holyoke. When will that be online, and when will that be able to help provide more beds than the number that you just mentioned?

We're very excited about that. That is something that is supposed to come online in the fall of 2023 and it's going to add about 40 beds to our overall complement of beds. And so it's really very much needed here.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
Related Content