Franklin Memorial Hospital to reduce services temporarily due to spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations

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Jan. 11—FARMINGTON — Franklin Memorial Hospital officials said Monday they will reduce services temporarily at the Farmington facility due to a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

FMH officials said the hospital is set to close most of its operating rooms to reduce nonemergent procedures and ensure staff members are available to care for critically ill patients, many of whom are hospitalized with COVID-19.

"The surge in acutely ill patients needing hospitalization is being driven by large pockets of unvaccinated people in our community as well as people who put off care earlier in the pandemic," officials wrote in a statement released to the news media. "At the same time, an unprecedented labor shortage across the health care industry is making the situation worse."

The 30-bed hospital and emergency department at 111 Franklin Health Commons is to remain open to those with life-threatening and serious conditions, according to officials, and urgent and outpatient surgeries are to be scheduled as capacity and staffing levels allow.

Officials said the decision was made in response to surging hospitalizations across Franklin County.

"Delta hit us pretty hard," Dr. Ross Isacke, chief medical officer at Franklin Community Health Network, said Monday.

The hospital is preparing for even greater numbers in the coming weeks, brought on by the omicron-driven surge in infections, according to Isacke.

Coronavirus infections locally reached a peak last month, according to public health data. In mid-December, Franklin County reported a record average of almost 15 new cases per day over a seven-day period.

The omicron variant could spell even more trouble for the county, one of the least-vaccinated in Maine.

"What we're concerned about is omicron being so much more contagious, not necessarily more virulent, in terms of causing severe disease," Isacke said, "but because we would have likely so many more people affected, we're worried that we're going to have more admissions from COVID."

Hospitalizations statewide Monday exceeded 400 for the first time, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention. More than 100 patients were in critical care units and almost 60 were on ventilators.

Franklin Memorial Hospital is also anticipating more staff members to be out due to the highly contagious virus or quarantining, which impacts the hospital's ability to provide adequate staffing.

The hospital has requested additional aid from state and federal programs. Two members of the Maine National Guard were deployed to the hospital last month and continue to help administer monoclonal antibody treatments. Additionally , a federal ambulance team, one of eight deployed throughout Maine, is helping with nonemergency patient transfers.

There is no set end date for the reduction in services at FMH, Isacke said, but public health experts have said omicron is expected to peak in the next two to four weeks.

"This continues to surprise us, and the one thing with COVID that we know is that it continues to surprise us," Isacke said. "And so this (surge), it could be longer than that. I truly hope not. I'm hopeful this is a January phenomenon."

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