Providing emergency health care during the COVID-19 pandemic
When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker directed hospitals to postpone all non-emergency surgeries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston and Massachusetts General Hospital plastic surgeon Richard J. Ehrlichman, M.D., found his clinical schedule shifting dramatically. Days normally filled with surgeries and post-operative care suddenly looked emptier.
Dr. Ehrlichman, a colonel in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, soon found himself playing a key role in the establishment and operation of Boston Hope, the field hospital set up in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for patients who tested positive for COVID-19. His brigade commander in Afghanistan, General Jack Hammond, reached out for help to get Boston Hope operational. General Hammond is executive director of the Home Base program, a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation to support veterans with PTSD.
From sketching out plans on a whiteboard to admitting the first patient, Boston Hope opened its doors in just nine days. The field hospital had 1000 beds for recovering patients not ready to transition home. Staff members also cared for COVID-positive members of the homeless community.
“During this experience we learned two important things: Some patients can have a relapse and others who recover can be very weak and need rehabilitative care,” Dr. Ehrlichman shared. Patients who needed it also had access to pastoral care, rehabilitation and behavioral health services.
As planning section chief, Dr. Ehrlichman managed medical planning and operations for Boston Hope. Suffolk Construction assisted with the buildout, setting up nurses’ stations and ICU rooms. Boston Hope contained everything one would find in a typical hospital including laundry service, security and food service. Recognizing the impact of the pandemic on staff, organizers made sure to include a wellness room, counseling sessions and amenities such as live music.
Over two months Boston Hope admitted almost 800 patients. While not currently needed for overflow care, officials stand ready to reactivate Boston Hope with two days notice to accept patients should there be a need.
Dr. Ehrlichman and the staff at Boston Hope took some pressure off the local hospitals, helping manage bed capacity and giving patients more resources to recover. “This was a different experience for me. I have set up 20-bed hospitals, but nothing this big. Due to the changing nature of what we were learning about the virus, we were often meeting twice a day and making changes quickly. We learned a lot about what our patients needed, which was certainly more than we thought at the beginning,” said Dr. Ehrlichman.
Dr. Ehrlichman has been back at the Boston Shriners Hospital for about two weeks, slowly resuming a regular schedule with his pediatric patients.
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