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Boston MedFlight Forced To Take Patients Out Of State Due To Hospital Bed Shortage

BOSTON (CBS) - Some critically ill patients onboard Boston MedFlight helicopters -- bound for one of the city's several hospitals -- have flown into a harsh reality of late. No available ICU beds.

"That's happened half a dozen times in the last 10 days," says Boston MedFlight CEO Maura Hughes.

Instead, they went to hospitals in neighboring states -- Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

"It's not a great solution," Hughes says, "particularly for the patient's family, when you tell them 'Yes, we have a bed. But it's in Connecticut."

Boston MedFlight -- a non-profit that shuttled 5,700 patients last year by chopper, plane and ground ambulance -- is calling attention to the troublesome "perfect storm" that's filling local hospital beds -- and not just in the intensive care ward.

Experts say Covid-19 is a fraction of the problem -- but not the problem itself.

For starters, Boston MedFlight is carrying much sicker patients these days -- and more of them -- because so many people put off getting medical care for their health issues during the pandemic.

"What we're seeing," says CEO Hughes, "is a high volume of critically ill patients."

The second factor is seriously understaffed hospitals. Almost one-in-five healthcare workers have quit since the spring of 2020 -- half a million this past August alone -- according to the US Labor Department.

And third, there's the mental health crisis -- with hospitals finding themselves, unfortunately -- on the front lines.

"The emergency rooms are taking care of those patients," says Hughes, "but they really need psychiatric care not medical care."

"It seems like all three of those things are happening at the same time," she adds.

The situation has led to MedFlight crews caring for some patients for much longer stretches than in the past -- as they hunt for a hospital to accept the patient.

It's important to note there's no finger-pointing here. Everyone seems to agree on the challenges -- and that several other major cities are dealing with the same thing -- sometimes with deadly results.

But the local solution -- at this point -- is elusive.
"A lot of times it's not the medical care that's complicated," says Hughes, "it's the logistics."

But think-tanks are ongoing with the hope of sorting things out -- before a holiday Covid surge or just the seasonal flu -- make out-of-state landings more commonplace.

Boston MedFlight is a non-profit that provides transportation and medical care regardless of the patient's ability to pay. Its $45 million budget is funded by a consortium of hospitals and private donations.

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