How hospitals are adapting as coronavirus surge reaches Central Valley

The coronavirus surge has reached Central Valley hospitals and it's putting ICU capacity to the test.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The coronavirus surge has reached Central Valley hospitals and it's putting ICU capacity to the test.

"With the case counts going up as precipitously as they are, we're quite worried that we don't have room to expand," said Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra.

Fresno County hospitals are filling up with coronavirus patients.

State hospital data shows 171 in the county's hospitals Wednesday, up 68 patients - or 66% - in the last two weeks.

It's the highest hospital population the county has seen during the pandemic and the drastic increase started eight days ago and hasn't slowed down since.

"That's not unexpected," said Dr. W. Eugene Egerton, chief medical officer at St. Agnes Hospital. "We expected that when we started reopening and people increased in their gathering there would be increased numbers of cases."

Some cases are worse than others, though.

The data shows 37 COVID patients in ICU Wednesday, also the highest during the pandemic, and up 54% in the last two weeks.

Dr. Vohra says the county's nine hospitals have 269 ICU beds, but only 157 for adults who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

194 ICU beds are in use right now, which means some hospitals are having to convert pediatric ICU beds to be used by adults, and they might have to divert some of their regular pediatric patients to other hospitals.

This is the surge they expected a couple months ago.

"I think that we are better prepared to handle this and part of that is because the initial surge that we had anticipated didn't happen quite as we suspected," said Dr. Egerton. "That's probably because we sheltered in place more aggressively than other states did."

"The success bought us time to build capacity and to build our ability to respond to those in crisis, those in need," said Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Administrators at Community Regional Medical Center and Kaiser in Fresno could not be reached for interviews, but Kaiser sent a statement:

"We are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases in California," said Dr. Stephen Parodi, the associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. "Our Kaiser Permanente facilities and staff are responding to this increased number of hospitalized patients expertly treating patients with the virus while safely caring for other conditions as well."

And on Friday, CRMC's chief medical and quality officer told Action News:

"Our emergency departments are very busy," said Dr. Thomas Utecht. "Some of those patients are admitted while others are treated and discharged. As is common in most healthcare facilities, we monitor real time availability of beds at all our hospitals. While we have capacity to care for patients with general to intensive care needs, Community Regional Medical Center, Clovis Community Medical Center and Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital are pretty full."

For the most part, Fresno County hospitals still have room for patients with serious illnesses.

And even though they may be moving equipment around to handle coronavirus patients, Dr. Egerton points out they don't do the testing themselves.

"St. Agnes isn't, nor is any hospital in Fresno, a testing site," he said.

Test sites are posted on the county's website and they are also filling up.
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