South Valley hospitals brace for worst surge yet

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Staff at the South Valley's largest hospital know they're in for a long winter.

Kaweah Delta's COVID-19 admissions have climbed at an astonishing rate in recent weeks, and hospital officials say they still haven't seen the full impact of the virus' spread at Thanksgiving gatherings.

As of Friday, Kaweah Delta was caring for 79 COVID-19 positive patients, including eight in the ICU.

"I think we're going to be in a worse situation than we were in July and August," said Kaweah Delta Chief Nursing Officer Keri Noeski.

On Thursday, state officials announced a new stay at home order would apply to regions with less than 15% of ICU bed capacity.

The San Joaquin Valley is close to dropping below that threshold, but each hospital has a different situation, and it changes every day.

On Friday, Kaweah Delta's ICU bed capacity was well above that mark; 18 of its 41 ICU beds were open.

But for hospitals across the state, the biggest problem isn't the lack of beds. It's the severe staffing shortage.

More than 100 Kaweah Delta employees are currently on leave due to COVID-19 infection or exposure.

"I don't have eight or nine nurses available with that level of training for a sustained period of time," Noeski said in reference to staffing the remaining ICU beds. "Could I do it for two or three days? Yes, we'd have team members that can step up. But to say we're going to do it for the next two months, we don't have that longevity in our resources to actually fill those beds to capacity."

Military healthcare workers helped Kaweah Delta meet staffing needs over the summer, but county officials say those types of teams may not be available for this surge due to staffing shortages around the state and across the country.

The county says staffing limitations are also preventing the state from reactivating the Porterville Developmental Center as an alternate care site for COVID-19 patients.

"It's very important that the public does their part to not overwhelm our hospitals with COVID positive patients and then they're not able to meet the critical medical needs that we know arise in our community, such as car crashes, heart attacks," said Tulare County HHSA's Carrie Monteiro.

So this winter, don't gather and do wear a mask when around others. These simple steps will take some of the pressure off of local hospitals.

It could also prevent the unnecessary death of someone you love.

"You're going to feel better in three days when you find out you have COVID, and you know you had a mask on so the other people you were with (don't) have it," Noeski said.

In response to the current surge, Kaweah Delta is going to be changing its visitor policy starting next Tuesday.

Each patient will be allowed one visitor between the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (it has to be the same person each day).

The hospital also plans to start scaling back on some elective surgeries like they did earlier this year.

Additionally, as part of an effort to keep patient volumes down at many of their clinics, they will no longer allow COVID-19 testing walk-ups starting on Monday.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.