Kaweah Health Medical Center reactivates incident command center in response to patient surge

Kaweah Health representatives said they increased the staffing within the hospital, but there is still an overload of patients.
VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- On Tuesday, Kaweah Health Medical Center was caring for 99 COVID-19 positive patients, an increase of 10 since Monday.

Sixteen of them are on a ventilator.

Just a month and a half ago, the hospital was treating less than a handful of COVID patients.

The recent spike in COVID admissions has contributed to a very crowded situation at the hospital.

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On Monday afternoon, there were no beds left, so staff had no choice but to hold 60 plus patients in the emergency department.

Another 100 were waiting to be seen in the ED.

CEO Gary Herbst says the crisis conditions led to the declaration of an internal disaster and a rush to create more space for patients.

"Calling in nurses to work extra shifts," Herbst explained. "Literally having non-clinical volunteers step forward to transport patients home with our vehicles here."

By Tuesday afternoon, Herbst says the situation had improved -- 41 patients were waiting to be transferred from the ED to a bed upstairs.

During this fourth surge of the pandemic, Kaweah Health's force is stretched thin again, with around 80 staff members out on a COVID-related leave of absence.

The state hasn't sent any additional staffing resources to Tulare County but did approve Kaweah's request to operate outside of the traditional nurse to patient ratio.

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"With approval from the state, we're now taking that out to one RN per six patients," Herbst said. "So it does allow us to leverage and stretch our existing resources. But obviously, safety is our number one concern -- safety for our patients, safety for our employees."

To help meet the hospital's staffing needs, Kaweah Health's CEO says they have hired traveling nurses, brought non-clinical nurses back to the bedside, and increased the cash incentive for staff willing to work an extra shift.

Officials say the public can help reduce the pressure on the healthcare system by not going to the emergency room if it's not necessary.

Instead, they should see their primary care doctor or make an appointment at an urgent care clinic.

"If it's 911 in an emergency, then you have to do what you have to do," Tulare County Public Health Emergency Manager Annette Burgos said. "But I think that if you can avoid the emergency room if at all possible, then please do so. That could be saving a bed for someone else in need."

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