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Field Hospital Opened In Rhode Island To Deal With COVID-19 Surge

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There is a reality facing communities across the country. Hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients, so much so they're having to open field hospitals to deal with the demand. And that is the situation in Rhode Island, where we find Dr. Laura Forman. She runs a field hospital in Cranston outside Providence. She's also the head of emergency medicine at Kent Memorial Hospital in the city of Warwick. Dr. Forman, thank you for all the work you're doing, and thanks for being here.

LAURA FORMAN: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

GREENE: So when - at your hospital, Kent, I mean, what are you seeing on your daily rounds these days?

FORMAN: So we're seeing more and more patients coming in with COVID. You know, we had a bit of reprieve over the summer, and we started to see cases climb through the fall. And certainly, after Thanksgiving, we saw a big spike. And now after Christmas, we're already starting to see the beginnings of another climb in cases. You know, what we saw in the spring initially was people who weren't as sick with COVID. Now our ICU is filling up. Our stepdown unit, sort of the lower-level ICU, is filling up as well - more and more patients coming in with this. And we're also seeing younger patients come in with this as well. It's been really heartbreaking to see.

GREENE: Younger patients with serious cases, you're saying?

FORMAN: Yes.

GREENE: How's your staff holding up?

FORMAN: You know, that's been the really difficult part now. I feel like we faced the spring surge with a lot of energy and determination to get through this. And now we're 10 months in, and the resilience is waning. One of the amazing things in health care is getting to work with such committed, compassionate people who want to bring their whole selves into this work and connect with our patients. And doing that day after day in this pandemic in which the necessities of protection really prevent us from connecting with patients in the same way has been so hard - to have to - to be in rooms with patients and not be able to offer them comfort, they can't even see us smile. They can barely see our eyes. To be in rooms with people as they are dying without their family members there and to have to hold their hand through a glove and through layers of PPE has been incredibly trying on the staff.

You know, among the physicians and nurses working in these hospitals, there are very few among us who haven't used our own personal cellphone to FaceTime a patient's family as the patient was dying and to use that phone to hold up so that they could see their loved one as they died. And we sit in these rooms with patients. And that is - it's heartbreaking. And I have seen it really take a toll. I mean, I think the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone in the population. Levels of anxiety and depression are rising. Among health care workers, I have seen the rates of PTSD skyrocket. And that's been painful to watch happen to people who have been working so hard to care for the community. We're seeing a lot of burnout in staff now.

GREENE: I can't imagine - I mean, so heartbreaking - and to go on for this long. Can you just tell me - this field hospital that is being used, as well - I mean, which again, speaks to just the massive challenge you have - what does that look like, and what role is it playing?

FORMAN: So the field hospital is filling up with patients. It's providing a relief valve for us and a place to offload some of the pressure that's on the hospitals now. So it's a very difficult place to be. It's hard to imagine that we've come to that in this country.

GREENE: And it's filling up, as well, at this point? I mean, you're seeing more and more patients coming there, too?

FORMAN: We're seeing more patients coming in. Our numbers are still not as high as we were concerned that they might be. But we're very worried about what happens after the Christmas and New Year's surges.

GREENE: Dr. Forman, we'll be thinking about you and your staff. And again, thank you for all the work that you're doing. We really appreciate it.

FORMAN: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

GREENE: It's Dr. Laura Forman in Rhode Island. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.