(Updated, Thurs., March 19, 8:35 p.m.)- Outpatient testing for COVID-19 will begin on Fri., March 20 at Carney Hospital. It will be conducted Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Patients must have a prescription from the doctor to be tested," according to Nicholas Puleo, a spokesman for Steward Health Care.
Dorchester's Carney Hospital will be transformed into the nation’s first “Dedicated Care Center” for treating patients who test positive for COVID-19, according to the hospital's parent company, Steward Health Care, which says Carney will become its model for regionalizing COVID-19 specialty care centers across America.
The 159-bed hospital on Dorchester Avenue will be converted immediately to enhance "patient isolation protocols" and to marshal equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment on site.
Carney's emergency department will be available to anyone who needs it, but the in-patient wards will all be converted to "negative pressure treatment areas," said Nicholas Puleo, a spokesman for Carney and Steward.
"Carney is becoming a dedicated in-patient facility so we can take COVID-19 patients from all Steward hospitals and beyond who need it," said Puleo.
COVID-19 patients will only be admitted to Carney "if they need in-patient care. Most people with COVID-19 can self care and quarantine at home,” Puleo said. “This will be just for those who need in-patient treatment.”
On Tuesday, the hospital had one, 11-bed ward fully equipped and sealed off ready to accept COVID-19 patients, Puleo said. As of Monday, Carney was not one of the Steward hospitals with a COVID-19-positive patient. That was still the case as of Tuesday morning, according to Steward.
“The plan is to take that ward and continue to expand capacity in the hospital as we need it,” said Puleo. There is no plan or need right now to re-locate patients, he said. They will discharged as needed with no change in schedule.
"This unprecedented action serves two important purposes," Puleo wrote in a statement released Tuesday morning. "First, by locating COVID-19 patients in a focused environment, Steward can better dedicate the necessary resources, equipment, and expertise to provide COVID-19 patients with focused care and the very best opportunity for a full recovery.
“Secondly, this measure keeps Steward’s emergency rooms and other hospitals in Massachusetts fully operational, allowing us to continue caring for other patients who are sick, who are mid-course in treatments, who are in chronic pain and who need high-quality care. This approach also ensures that non-COVID-19 patients continue to receive necessary treatment of acute conditions."
Mayor Martin Walsh said on Tuesday that he supports the decision by Steward.
"COVID-19 is one of the greatest public health challenges our city has ever faced, and the steps that are being taken now across sectors to mitigate its spread are critical,” the mayor said in a statement. “The city of Boston is home to some of the best medical experts and hospitals in the world, and it is important that as they do the necessary planning on how to care for patients diagnosed with COVID-19, we rely on their guidance and decision making during this difficult time. I have supported Steward Health Care in making this decisive move, which comes at a time when the number of cases in Boston continues to increase. It is our collective hope that it will be one of the strategies employed that will help contain the spread of the virus."
Puleo said that the decision came after Steward "launched a substantial program to acquire and stockpile specialty equipment required to treat COVID-19 patients - including ventilators and personal protective equipment. Many of those resources have been strategically distributed to our hospitals already."
On Monday, a tent was erected outside Carney's emergency department. Puleo said it would be used to test patients directed by their physicians to be checked for COVID-19. "While we have only treated 10 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients across our more than 7,000 beds nationwide to date, we are prepared for an influx," he added.
"Utilizing remote testing sites allows local emergency rooms to maintain capacity to treat all other patients in emergent situations," Puleo said.
Bill Walczak, a longtime Dorchester health center leader who is a past president of Carney Hospital (and is a contributor to the Reporter) called the decision “a smart move.”
“The problem in greater Boston is that our major teaching hospitals are the places people go for care for conditions that community hospitals typically deal with in most other parts of the country, so it's difficult to sustain our community hospitals in greater Boston,” Walczak said. “By becoming a hospital focused on an emerging disease that is difficult to segregate from regular hospital patients, the Carney has a niche that could sustain it.”
Carney Hospital had already begun to impose tighter restrictions on visits to the Dorchester Avenue facility before Tuesday’s announcement. Currently, patients hospitalized at Carney can only see one visitor at a time. No one 12-years-old our younger can visit patients.
Puleo said that restrictions to the main hospital building was not expected to impact outpatient appointments at the Seton Medical Building, which is located at the rear of the main Carney building. However, he recommended that patients call ahead to their physicians who have offices at Seton. The Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop, located in the main lobby of the hospital, is going to close, he said.