Central Valley hospitals face critical staffing shortages as COVID-19 patients fill ICU beds

February 07 2021 03:30 pm

FRESNO, California (KSEE) – As COVID-19 cases rise in the Central Valley, hospitals are being pushed to the brink.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the San Joaquin Valley has the lowest available ICU capacity in the state, coming in at 5.6% Tuesday, though some counties’ capacity is lower.

With rising cases, many hospitals are reporting staffing shortages due to healthcare workers either in self-isolation after being exposed – or positive with the virus.

On Sunday, Community Medical Centers reported 363 of its healthcare workers were home due to the virus.

“A statistic to keep in mind is that 10 to 15% of all COVID cases will need to go visit an emergency department,” said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra.

Dr. Vohra says even if hospitals created more ICU beds to care for patients, they likely would not have the staff to care for them. 

“We are also seeing large increases in our healthcare workers being out right now battling the virus themselves,” said Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency’s Carrie Monteiro.

Monteiro says the staffing resources used during the summer surge, like the military, are no longer available due to rising cases nationwide.

“Unfortunately, now that the surge is being felt nationwide and in other areas of the country not just in California, those resources are sparse,” said Monteiro.

Fresno County EMS Director Dan Lynch says Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state would be helping secure staffing for hospitals but it’s unclear yet how many and where. 

The state is also set to staff the Porterville Alternative Care site, home to 123 beds and scheduled to activate on Monday.

“If hospitals run out of beds and there’s nowhere else for patients to go then it makes more sense to have an alternative care site that has both the beds and staffing available,” said Dr. Vohra.

Dr. Vohra expects an influx of patients with COVID-19 linked to Thanksgiving gatherings to begin showing up to hospitals next week or the following week.

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