Kaweah Delta hopes military healthcare team can extend stay by 30 days

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hospitals around the country have faced staffing shortages during the coronavirus crisis.

As of Wednesday night, for instance, Kaweah Delta had more than 90 employees on leave with active cases of COVID-19.

It's why Kaweah Delta was relieved to get some staffing help in mid-July-from the U.S. military.

Within days of signing an agreement with the Department of Defense, a team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and technicians arrived in Visalia.

A few days after that, Kaweah Delta Chief Nursing Officer Keri Noeski says they were caring for COVID and non-COVID patients in different areas of the hospital, including the critical care units.

"But our critical care census bumped up by ten that weekend," Noeski said. "So we were grateful they were here because we had that spike and the timing was perfect for their arrival and our increase in census. And we've maintained that pretty high census for the last couple of weeks. Fortunately we are seeing it come down a little bit right now."

Air Force Master Sergeant Crystal Watson is a member of the military team.

She says this has been one of the most humbling missions of her career.

"And for this to be so rampant and rapidly affect community members and for us to be able to serve in this capacity and help the community, it is very overwhelming but we take pride in it," Watson said.

The hope is that the military team can stay a little longer than originally planned.

They will be especially helpful, Noeski says, after another expected influx of patients after Labor Day.

"In the meantime, we have been working on increasing staffing, bringing on new hires, because that's really the goal of it," she said. "It's not a long-term solution, it's a 30, 60 day window for us to get more staff in place."

Hospital officials expect to know if the team will extend its stay by next week.

Also next week, a state strike team is also expected to arrive in Tulare County to assess its needs and challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis.
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