‘A nightmare’: Doctors discuss stark reality of admitting COVID patients to RI field hospitals


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Dr. Selim Suner has worked in field hospitals twice before: once in the aftermath of 9/11 and again following Hurricane Katrina.

Now he’s the medical director of a field hospital in the heart of downtown Providence.

“It feels like a dream, or a nightmare,” Suner told 12 News. “This is really unprecedented. The Lifespan Alternative Hospital site that we created here is nothing I’ve seen before.”

On Wednesday the R.I. Department of Health reported 408 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. Lifespan said as of Wednesday evening, 22 COVID-19 patients were recovering at the Rhode Island Convention Center, which is now home to nearly 600 hospital beds.

While just a small fraction of those beds are currently occupied, Suner is worried it will get worse before it gets better.

“I’m very concerned,” Suner said. “Even if we start following the orders to the ‘T’ today, that’s not going to start having an effect for another week or two. So what we did two weeks ago, we’re going to pay for it in the days to come.”

Dr. Cathy Duquette, Lifespan’s executive vice president for quality and safety, said candidates for the field hospital are those COVID-19 patients that require a general inpatient level of care, whether they’ve completed an initial phase of their treatment or are stable upon admission. She said all patients arrive by ambulance and social workers notify their families.

Suner said patients at the field hospital are anticipated to stay an average of five to seven days, but it could be longer if they’re waiting for admission to a nursing home.

Duquette hopes Rhode Islanders heed the rules of the two-week “pause” ordered by Gov. Gina Raimondo starting Monday to relieve the growing pressure on hospital systems and staff.

“We need to stop this curve of the steep incline of demand for hospitalizations so we don’t exceed our capacity,” she said.

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