Kaweah Health reaches capacity, many patients waited for beds


VISALIA, Calif. (KSEE) – Kaweah Health Medical Center in Visalia reached capacity on Monday, with more than 60 people waiting in the emergency department to be admitted. Because of this, the hospital declared a “code triage,” or internal disaster.

This means hospital leaders were called to the incident command center in the hospital, trying to find space in the hospital and calling other facilities.

“Yesterday was really kind of a perfect storm. I can’t remember ever having a single day that we had that many patients,” Kaweah Health CEO Gary Herbst said.

In addition to the more than 60 patients waiting for admission, another 100 were waiting to be seen by emergency providers or were holding for additional examination, the hospital said.

“We’re strained from a nursing standpoint, a clinical support standpoint, and the emergency department is feeling that as well. So it really reached what we would consider a crisis condition,” Herbst said.

Herbst said many of the patients coming in were for non-COVID-related reasons, but due to the high volume of COVID-19 patients the hospital is already caring for, it limits their capacities.

“We are seeing an absolute escalation in the number of COVID-positive patients that we’re taking care of. As of this morning, we have 99 COVID-positive inpatients,” Herbst said.

Just a month and a half ago, Herbst said they were caring for just 4 COVID-positive patients.

Herbst said they contacted hospitals Monday throughout the Central Valley, asking if they could transfer patients to their facilities. But other local hospitals are in similar positions.

“Literally there was not a hospital in the Central Valley that was capable of accepting a transfer,” Herbst said.

In Fresno County, the health department is urging residents to not use ambulances or make trips to the emergency room unless they are experiencing a life or limb-threatening emergency.

Instead, they urge people to use urgent care or seek care at their private physician’s office.

“COVID-19 has again overwhelmed local hospitals and hospitals are all above capacity. This causes patients to be housed in the emergency room, which means less beds for people seeking care at the emergency department,” EMS Director Dan Lynch said.

The Fresno County health department says if individuals have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. But for non-emergency medical problems, people can expect delays in ambulance response and in the emergency room.

Already strained from a nursing standpoint and with low vaccination rates in the Valley, the fear now is that the rising COVID-19 rates could overwhelm hospitals even more.

“It’s a little bit alarming at the rate that our numbers are peaking up,” said Annette Burgos, the Tulare County public health emergency preparedness manager. “The most important thing right now is kind of what we’ve been saying all along. Make sure that you’re protecting yourself, protecting your family, get vaccinated.”

Herbst said Tuesday around 2 p.m. that the condition at Kaweah Health had improved a bit. Fewer people were waiting for beds and some patients in the hospital were close to being discharged.

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