Valley hospitals face staffing challenges, local hospital getting help from the military


CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KGPE) – Hospital capacity doesn’t just mean available beds but also staffing and the ability to treat the patients in those beds.

Hospitals throughout the Valley are facing staffing challenges as many health care workers have contracted the virus or are in isolation.

Hospitalizations and staffing in Tulare County:

Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia is receiving help from the military. A team of 20 healthcare workers is set to arrive as early as Wednesday, said Gary Herbst, the CEO of Kaweah Delta.

The team is made up of three critical care physicians, 13 critical care registered nurses, two respiratory therapists and two advanced practice providers.

Herbst said they’ll be caring for patients in the hospital’s 20-bed intensive care unit.

 “They’re all highly trained and experienced and working in critical care areas and so they will be arriving as a reinforcement team,” he said.

He said since the start of the pandemic, about 200 of his employees have contracted the virus. Most have recovered, but as many as 50 to 60 are quarantined at their homes.

Kaweah Delta has four units that are dedicated to taking care of COVID-19 patients, Herbst said. They include a 21-bed medical ICU, a 19-bed intermediate critical unit, a 29-bed medical surgical unit and a 12-bed pediatric unit.

“Early on in the pandemic, we decided to move pediatric patients to our mother baby unit,” Herbst said.

He said as of Tuesday morning, they had 68 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, the most since the start of the pandemic.

“Across those four units that I just spoke of, right now, I only have seven empty beds,” Herbst said.

He said he and the command center, which was created in March, have been looking at ways to create COVID-19 pods and looking at its rehab hospital to create more space. However, that also means more health care workers to work those beds.

“Our staff are not immune, our physicians are not immune from contracting the disease,” Herbst said.

In Tulare County, 92 patients who have COVID-19 or are suspected of having it are hospitalized, nine are in the ICU, according to state data.

Dr. Jeffery Hudson-Covolo, the vice president of patient care and chief nurse executive at Sierra View Medical Center, said Monday that they’ve sent about 10 patients to Porterville’s alternative care site to create space in the hospital.

He said they’re averaging 25 to 30 COVID-19 patients that are at hospitalized.

“When you surge above that, that’s really what we’re doing, we’re surging above the volumes that we would have, so every day I’m surging about 15 to 20 patients above what we normally would have in the house, and that will continue to increase I’m afraid in the few weeks to come,” Hudson-Covolo said.

He said they have three units dedicated to COVID-19 patients but had to create a fourth one in one of their conference rooms.

“We’re sort of at that breaking point where we are going to have to start using our additional conference room area in the very few days if this volume continues,” he said.

Staffing those beds can become a problem as numbers continue to surge, forcing hospitals to care for more patients on top of what they normally would.

“I’ve directed non-patient care providers to the bedside, in fact we have everyone available working at the bedside almost every day now to accommodate the COVID patients that are being brought in,” Hudson-Covolo said.

Hospitalizations and staffing in Fresno County:

In Fresno County, as of Tuesday, 252 patients with COVID-19 or who are suspected of having it are hospitalized, a 52% increase from 15 days ago. Fifty are in the ICU, according to state data.

Community Medical Centers added a feature on its website that shows how many COVID-19 patients are admitted in their hospitals. As of Monday, 128 COVID-19 positive patients and 45 who are suspected of having it are hospitalized in their hospitals.

The virus has also had an impact on their workforce with 232 employees who have been exposed to it — 167 are in self-isolation and 65 are COVID-19 positive.

“We are all very connected and the decisions that people make whenever they’re going out in public, things like wearing a mask, things like deciding to distance, things like minimizing your gatherings, minimizing your non essential errands, those all have implications with who ends up getting hospitalized,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, the interim health officer with Fresno County.

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