State Announces Updated Guidance to Preserve Hospital Capacity, Healthcare Workforce

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Assoc. (MHA), announced updated hospital guidance to conserve inpatient hospital capacity and to protect patients and the healthcare workforce in response to several challenges impacting the Commonwealth’s hospitals.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) released updated guidance to hospitals to reduce certain non-essential, elective services and procedures via a COVID-19 public-health emergency order. Effective Nov. 29, 2021, any hospital or hospital system that has limited capacity must begin to reduce non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures to ensure adequate hospital capacity for immediate healthcare needs.

This guidance, jointly developed by MHA and the administration, was agreed upon based on several contributing factors. There is a critical staffing shortage across the healthcare system, largely due to staff shortages stemming from the pandemic. This staffing shortage has also contributed to the loss of approximately 500 medical/surgical and ICU hospital beds across the Commonwealth. These factors, coupled with the current high census level and annual increases in hospitalization commonly seen during the period post-Thanksgiving through January, require this concerted effort to preserve inpatient capacity.

“The current strain on hospital capacity is due to longer-than-average hospital stays and significant workforce shortages, separate and apart from the challenges brought on by COVID,” said Marylou Sudders, secretary of Health and Human Services. “COVID hospitalizations in Massachusetts remain lower than almost every other state in the nation, but the challenges the healthcare system face remain, and this order will ensure hospitals can serve all residents, including those who require treatment for COVID-19.”

DPH defines non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures as procedures that are scheduled in advance because the procedure is not a medical emergency and where delay will not result in adverse outcomes to the patient’s health. This reduction will not impact urgent and essential procedures.

“Our healthcare system and state leaders have done heroic work to mitigate this public-health crisis over the past 20 months. But we are now seeing significant strain on hospital capacity due largely to workforce shortages and an influx of non-COVID-19 patients who deferred care and now need complex medical care,” said Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the MHA. “To address these challenges, MHA worked closely with the administration to develop a solution that is patient-focused and can ensure that safe, high-quality care remains available to everyone in need in the weeks ahead. We are grateful for the Baker-Polito administration’s leadership on behalf of our providers and caregivers, and for the collaboration that has enabled us to continue to offer world-renowned care through every turn of this crisis.”