Tulare County hospital almost full: ‘We did declare an internal disaster yesterday’

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TULARE COUNTY, California – (KSEE) – According to state data, there are 96 patients with COVID-19 or suspected of having it hospitalized in Tulare County. 13 of them are in intensive care units (ICU).

According to Dr. Jeffery Hudson-Covolo, the vice president of patient care and chief nurse executive at Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville, as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, they had 30 people with COVID-19 or suspected of having it admitted in the hospital. That number is more than double what they were seeing two to three weeks ago.

On Monday, they were forced to declare an internal disaster.

“Yesterday [Monday] we sort of just hit that wall where suddenly we didn’t have enough nurses to staff even our unmanned beds, so we did declare an internal disaster,” Dr. Hudson-Covolo said.

He says this means they no longer had the capacity to handle the surge occurring in their emergency department and needed to get more nurses in.

“We had ambulances on bed delays, we had patients who were being treated out in the tent who couldn’t physically get into the ED because we were so overwhelmed with patients. We had a nine-and-a-half-hour wait in our emergency room.”

Dr. Hudson-Covolo says they are using eight surge beds and got to the point on Monday that they almost had to use the nine-bed unit they created in one of their conference rooms.

“It puts us in a precarious position because we are now filling up, we have just a few beds left throughout the hospital,” he said. “We have not had to use that nine-bed unit yet, but it is ready to go…If indeed we do go to the conference room, we are at the end of the line of all of our beds, we have no more capacity, so that sends a very strong signal that we are heavily impacted in this facility.”

Those with COVID-19, and who are suspected of having it, are placed in isolation away from other patients. But it can take up to seven days to get test results back.

“Those suspect patients who are literally 24 hours perhaps in that status, where we can rule them out or rule them in, are now spending five to seven days in that category. It does present some issues for us in how many patients we’re caring for every day in isolation.”

He said the hospital has sent patients to the alternate care site in Porterville. However, they have also taken patients from the alternate care site whose conditions have deteriorated.

“We’re the 911 facility for that facility so we’ve had a number of patients that we’ve received declaring an emergency and need to come to our facility,” he said.

Dr. Hudson-Covolo emphasized that he doesn’t want people to fear coming to the hospital if they need to.

“We are still handling all the emergencies, whether it’s a stroke, a heart attack, appendix, whatever it may be, we’re here to help you,” he said. “We have very specific systems set up to take care of those patients who are not COVID patients and those that are and we are doing our absolute best to make sure we don’t intermingle those patients, but we do not want people to fear that they can’t come to the hospital and be cared for.”

As of Tuesday, Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia was caring for 68 COVID-19 patients.

Tulare County’s case rate of transmission is at 393 cases per 100,000. One of the metrics considered to get off the state’s monitoring list is for counties to see no more than 100 per 100,000.

As of July 11, Tulare County’s positivity rate was at 12%.

The reported positivity rate is delayed by two weeks due to a lag in time for commercial labs to report their negative tests to the county’s Health & Human Services Agency, said a spokesperson with the agency.

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