Alternative COVID-19 care site in Porterville could reactivate soon

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Just four days after Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighted the state's ability to reopen the Porterville Developmental Center (PDC) as a surge facility for COVID-19 patients, Action News is learning that might happen sooner than expected.

Tulare County health officials revealed Tuesday that the California Department of Public Health is considering moving the site from a 'warm' to 'active' status as soon as next week if it can be appropriately staffed.

"Activating and opening the Porterville Alternative Care site will be very beneficial to provide some relief to our hospitals," Tulare County HHSA Spokesperson Carrie Monteiro said.

In the spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked quickly to convert six of PDC's empty buildings into care units for less severe COVID patients from hospitals and prisons.

The site was activated during the summer surge, and about half of its 82 total patients came from Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville.

By mid-September, hospitalizations had dropped off and all patients were discharged.

Monteiro says there is a request for the site to also take non-COVID patients.

"To simply provide relief to the hospitals of those subacute non-COVID patients, making more room in the hospitals for those critical care needs of not only COVID but also non-COVID patients," she explained.

The Porterville Alternative Care Site has 123 beds available for this surge, but county officials say the number of staffed beds will depend on how many clinicians the state can send to Porterville.

In the meantime, Monteiro says hospitals are doing everything they can to survive the surge.

Sierra View and Kaweah Delta Medical Center have both asked the state for staffing resources, as many of their employees have been infected with or exposed to the virus.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Monteiro said. "We're just starting now to see the effects of the Thanksgiving gatherings. So we anticipate the struggles that our hospitals are dealing with today, will only increase in the coming weeks."

The Central Valley has one other surge site: the Fresno Convention Center.

"The opening of the Fresno Convention Center as an alternate care site would be a local decision and not initiated by the State," California's Emergency Medical Services Authority told Action News. "Separately, the State, with Region V officials, are coordinating to open the Porterville site. This is tentatively scheduled to begin December 14th."
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