Local hospitals prepare with surge plans as cases & hospitalizations increase in Fresno County

Local News

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE) – Hospitals in Fresno County are seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients as the positivity rate in the county increases, forcing some to activate surge protocols.

Hospitalizations in California have increased by 56% and ICU admissions by 49% over the last two weeks, Gov. Newsom said Thursday.

During Fresno County’s COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Saint Agnes Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. W. Eugene Egerton and Community Medical Centers Chief Quality & Medical Officer Dr. Jeff Thomas spoke about how they’ve been managing with the surge in COVID-19 patients.

“We prepared a lot for a surge, which as much of you know, never quite manifested, we were waiting and waiting and anticipating and it seems like it passed us over, and in the last 10-14 days, it certainly hit us right in between the eyeballs and we’re dealing with that,” Thomas said.

Community Medical Centers’ hospitals include Community Regional Medical Center, Clovis Community Medical Center and Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital.

Thomas said the hospitals have about 1,000 hospital beds combined, but capacity also means the ability to care for the patients who occupy those beds.

“When you think about capacity, that’s every space that you can put a patient, it doesn’t mean every space that can support a ventilator or every space that can support a pediatric patient,” Thomas said.

He said Community Medical Centers’ hospitals was seeing around 30 to 35 COVID-19 patients for six weeks straight, but over the last couple of weeks, it’s increased to around 40 to 60 COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday morning, it was approaching 100, and about 30 were in the ICU, he said.

Thomas added that their hospitals already have to care for patients with serious conditions, and adding more COVID-19 patients means the need for more staffing.

“When you look at our ICU capacity as a rule, we’re pretty challenged to be pretty much at capacity any given day of the week with cases that come for trauma or other things,” he said. “Those are all ICU patients that we have to accommodate so when you add on top of that 30 COVID patients, then you’re talking about resources like ventilators and a lot of staffing resources that you need to make available.”

Thomas said they’ve separated COVID-19 patients in order to protect those who don’t have the virus.

“What we’ve done at community is we’ve kept our ICUs intact, we’ve retooled ICUs to be a COVID specific ICU to protect patients against cross pollination or cross contamination with non-COVID patients,” Thomas said.

He added that fortunately, they haven’t reached their capacity when it comes to ventilators.

At Saint Agnes Medical Center, Egerton said they created an additional designated respiratory unit for COVID-19 patients.

He said at the beginning, they were seeing between 16 and 20 patients with COVID-19. Now, it’s double that, he said.

“We do have some ICU capacity in the dedicated COVID ICU, but that is also a moving target with regards to what’s available and what’s actually being used and what we are staffing, so right now, we are being very aggressive in terms of our management of these patients,” Egerton said.

Both Egerton and Thomas said they’re seeing COVID-19 patients across all age groups being hospitalized.

Inside the Fresno Convention Center, 250 beds still fill the exhibit hall to make up the alternate care site.

“Our command center is looking at possibly, and we’re coordinating with Fresno County, ‘Do we need to use the convention center eventually if we have a surge of COVID positive patients?'” Thomas said.

Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said while the hospital beds are there, the challenge will be staffing.

But Thomas said he hopes they don’t have to get to the point where they have to use the site.

“We’re crossing our fingers that even with our best efforts that we can put the curve back on the positive rate so we don’t have to go there,” Thomas said.

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