Kaweah Health dealing with staffing shortage as Omicron variant takes over

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- In the last two weeks, Kaweah Health Medical Center felt the impact of COVID-19 cases with patients and employees throughout the hospital.

"This Omicron variant doesn't specialize in particular professions or positions," says CEO Gary Herbst. "It's indiscriminate on its effect on people."

On December 27, 33 employees tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined.

On January 3, it jumped to 82.

Monday, that number more than doubled to 205.

Herbst says 72% of those were vaccinated.

"The majority of our employees were vaccinated a year ago, and scientists all along predicted that the immunity would only last about 6-8 months," he said.

Although no data shows specific numbers of how many employees have each variant, they believe the highly transmissible omicron variant is the reason for the uptick.

Currently, the hospital has 51 COVID patients, which is still less than last year when they had over 100.

But there are other patients without COVID who need to be taken care of.

The hospital is at 102% occupancy, keeping the limited staff on their toes.

"The team spirit, having each other back and taking care, lifting their hopes and spirits is what keep them going," Herbst said.

Because of the staffing crunch, the California Department of Public Health released new guidelines this weekend for those who work in health care.

They may immediately return to work if they test positive but are asymptomatic.

Those who show symptoms need to quarantine for five days.

Herbst says to be safe, they are choosing to have staff quarantine for seven days.

"At the end of seven days, if you are asymptomatic or your symptoms improved, you can return without a negative test," he said. "If you have been exposed but you are not having any symptoms, you can come to work immediately."

Herbst says he cannot stress the importance of the community doing its part to help slow the spread of COVID to keep those people out of the hospital.
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