Staff shortages mean there are fewer available beds at Cambridge Health Alliance hospitals. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge Hospital is so full that it has no beds available except for maternity patients, city councillors were told Monday. It’s not from rising numbers of Covid-19 patients, though – it’s because staff shortages have reduced the hospital’s capacity.

The report came from Sue Breen in her final City Council appearance as interim head of the city’s public health department. Breen stepped in from retirement as head of school nurses to fill in after former chief public health officer Claude Jacob left July 1 to head the regional health department in San Antonio. A newly hired chief public health officer, Derrick Neal, took over this week.

Breen said that “statewide, hospitals and health care systems are experiencing capacity pressures that are separate from Covid. And these are workforce shortages and longer-than-average hospital stays.”

“At Cambridge Hospital, they do not have beds available except in maternity,” Breen said. “But the lack of beds, again, is not from being full, it is from having a shortage of staffing.”

The impact of shortages on hospital beds isn’t a surprise. Last month the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker said 500 hospital beds remained out of service because of lack of staff, while Covid-19 hospitalizations are rising. The state ordered hospitals to postpone elective surgeries and other procedures if capacity fell below a certain level.

Cambridge Health Alliance spokesperson David Cecere said now “is historically a busy period for our health system [as] we are also seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases and the start of influenza activity across the system.” The pattern is “consistent with annual trends,” he said.

Hospitals nationwide “are experiencing staffing shortages in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, and CHA “is continuously working to manage this challenge without eliminating any services at this time … We adjusted our surgical scheduling to comply with Gov. Baker’s order while maintaining access for our patients.”

Asked whether he could confirm Breen’s statement Monday that Cambridge Hospital had no available beds except in maternity, Cecere said: “I cannot speak to that specific point in time …but, like most hospitals across the state, we are consistently running at very high occupancy levels.”

The other hospital in Cambridge, Mount Auburn Hospital, said it hasn’t canceled or postponed scheduled elective procedures, but has limited scheduling new ones.

On Wednesday, the two hospitals in the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge and Everett had 15 patients with Covid-19, including one in intensive care, according to the state Department of Public Health. Mount Auburn had eight Covid-19 patients including two in intensive care.

New Covid infections

Meanwhile, the number of new Covid-19 cases among Cambridge residents continues to rise steeply. There have been 239 infections reported in the past five days. On Monday the seven-day average new-case rate per 100,000 population stood at 39, the highest since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Most new cases are among young people under 30, but five resident infections last week at Neville Place, an assisted-living facility at Fresh Pond, have not been reported by the city health department or explained by the facility or health department.

Neville Place reported the cases Dec. 2 on the state health department Covid-19 website; the city disclosed one new case in long-term care on Dec. 3 without naming the facility. The management company for Neville Place, Senior Living Residences, has not responded to questions. The city health department is “looking into” questions from Cambridge Day about the reports, spokesperson Dawn Baxter said Tuesday.

Assisted-living facilities are considered landlords, not health care providers, and don’t need to disclose how many residents and staff members are vaccinated against Covid-19. They are required by Massachusetts state law to report infections, however.