Memorial Hospital, among others, had capacity issues this week

CONWAY – Memorial Hospital reached its capacity Tuesday night and had to send critical patients away to other hospitals. This apparently resulted in a number of helicopters flying over the valley.

Memorial spokeswoman Kathy Bennett confirmed "all 25" of Memorial's beds were full. She said it's her understanding that all the hospitals in 100 square miles were also experiencing a shortage of available beds to admit new patients. On Wednesday afternoon, Bennett said the issue is on going.

"It is an uncommon situation that all of our beds were full and other regional hospitals were also full," said Bennett in an email.

Bennett's email contained a statement from Ethnee Garner, the hospital's vice president of nursing.

"We have been in constant contact with state hospitals and most critical access hospitals are experiencing the same capacity problems," said Garner. "There does not seem to be a common diagnosis or trend in admissions. However our critical patients are being accepted at tertiary facilities such as Central Maine Medical Center, Catholic Medical Center and Maine Medical Center. We utilize air or ground transportation after establishing the appropriate level of transport."

Garner said the staff and other medical personnel have worked hard to meet patients' needs.

"We continue to provide care to those patients appropriate for Memorial Hospital," said Garner. "We are grateful for staff and providers who have worked additional hours to effectively deal with increased capacity. Pre-hospital ambulance services have also worked tirelessly to provide timely transfers."

On Tuesday night, hospital staff made an announcement on the internal intercom system saying the hospital reached capacity.

Conway Daily Sun editor Lloyd Jones, who lives near the hospital, said he and his wife, on Tuesday, heard three or four helicopters go by between 7 and 11 p.m. Dr. Benjamin Chan, of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services division of Public Health Services, said he had no information about the situation with the hospitals' capacity issues but he gave some insight as to what's happening with the flu in New Hampshire. He said flu shots are developed during the previous winter and experts have to decide which strains to include. One of the strains involved with the 2014-2015 shot, H3N2, did in fact become prevalent but it didn't stay the same.

"It changed a little bit so the vaccine isn't as effective," said Chan.

Chan added this flu shot is considered to be 23 percent effective while vaccines are usually considered to be about 50 percent effective. Chan said that's one reason this flu season is expected to be more severe than most. Chan still encourages people to receive the vaccine. He also reminds people to wash their hands, stay home when sick and go to the doctor if they suspect they have the flu.

Paul Whalen, emergency preparedness director at the Carroll County Coalition for Public Health, said officials have plans in the event there is a larger public health crisis. Whalen said those plans involve creating "alternative care sites" which would basically be temporary hospital rooms at places such as schools. Those plans did not have to be activated, he said.

When asked why he thinks Memorial couldn't identify a trend, Whalen said 25 is a small sample size. Memorial patients could have come in with various ailments and injuries.

"It's hard to deduce a trend with 25 people," said Whalen.

John Clayton, of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said it's not unusual for hospitals the size of Memorial to hit capacity during flu season.

Androscoggin Valley Hospital spokesman James Patry said his hospital has been busy lately.

"We have seen an influx of patients," said Patry.