'A failure' led to Fresno County hospital surges, but two programs can ease burden

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Surge protocols are in place at Fresno County hospitals and fears of overwhelming them are coming closer to reality, but a pair of programs from the state and federal government will help stave off disaster.

"We all should be very mindful that we still have a chance to avert disaster," said Dr. Rais Vohra, the interim health officer for Fresno County.

Hospitals have instituted surge protocols to adjust to their bulging patient population, including 270 confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients. That's almost triple the number from exactly a month ago (93) and Dr. Vohra says it probably could've been prevented.

"The fact that we're here at all is really a cause of concern," he said. "It's really in some ways a failure that we as a community have allowed this epidemic to get this far."

The next step after hospitals find surge capacity is for the county to open its temporary hospital at the convention center downtown. About 250 temporary beds sit waiting for patients coming from overwhelmed hospitals.

But we haven't gotten to that point and county health officials are hoping to prevent it as long as possible.

One program that'll help is a new Department of Defense and FEMA response team.

"There's eight of these teams that were brought to the state of California and two of them were sent to the Central Valley," said Fresno County EMS director Dan Lynch.

Kaweah Delta and Community Medical Centers each got teams made up of 20 people - doctors, assistants, nurses, and staff - mainly focused on intensive care treatment.

"These are specialty groups that are just badly needed in the hospitals and so this is a great shot in the arm for both facilities," Lynch said.

They'll take care of patients on hospital beds instead of those temporary cots at the convention center.

And they'll help fill the gap created because of coronavirus exposure by healthcare workers.

Community Medical announced Wednesday it is short 194 workers who either have COVID-19 or had contact and haven't gotten cleared.

The FEMA teams are on 30-day deployments here, so the hope is our ICU population settles down and when the out of town medical workers go home, the county is in a better position.

Hospitals are also getting help from a temporary hospital at the Porterville Developmental Center. Fresno County has sent about a dozen patients there when they don't need to be in ICU.

"The hospitals are able to decompress by sending COVID patients to that facility, letting them convalesce there for a few days or until they test negative," Lynch said.

But the temporary beds at the convention center could still be needed soon.

The county is playing it by ear, but they say they can have the facility ready to go within about 72 hours.
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