Surging COVID cases placing strain on area hospitals, staff

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Sharp HealthCare had more than 300 COVID-19 patients in its system as of Dec.7. About 116 of those are at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, just over 100 at Sharp Chula Vista and 15 at Sharp Coronado; Sharp Memorial has around 66.

Sharp Grossmont Hospital CEO Scott Evans said this is a significant increase from where they were just a few weeks ago when they were seeing between 20 to 35 cases at any given time during the pandemic.

“It has certainly been tripling if not quadrupling the numbers that we are seeing,” he said. “We have 75 licensed ICU beds at Grossmont. To put it into perspective there are about 800 ICU beds in our region, and we have 75 of them. Under normal circumstances we work with about 48 ICU beds, but we do have an additional 27 that are activated for ICU level care. We are at 6% which means that 94% of our ICU beds are full.”

Evans said that the 6% is a misnomer, as they might have the beds, but may be short of staff to take care of the increase in patients.

“Under normal circumstances operating with about 45 ICU patients, we are normally staffed to accommodate that many,” he said. “Today, when we find ourselves at 69 ICU patients, that is a stretch for us.”

Evans said Sharp has done projection modeling and it clearly shows that the number of cases will increase.

“To the extent that we know what the end is, we do not know,” he said. “We are hopeful that we can get folks to do the things they are supposed to do in order to decrease hospitalizations.”

Evans aid emergency and contingency plans to accommodate a large surge are in place. He said they have the beds, good equipment, but stocking is going to be the limiting factor.

“Most of the projections that we look at that increase far beyond where we are today are problematic in that essentially, we would not have the staff to necessarily care for that number of patients,” he said. “That is the troubling part. It is sort of what we are facing right now today, and every day, making sure that we have enough nurses, respiratory therapists to take care of the patients that we have.”

“It is the toughest that we have seen in my experience at Grossmont,” Evans continued. “We cannot find an end to the number of patients that are coming in. While the overall sense of what we normally expect, the intensity of the COVID patients has totally changed that as well as inability to maintain full staffing. It is pretty bad from that perspective.”

Evans said in looking at the early days of COVID and the things people saw in New York or Italy, our region is not there yet.

“We are not putting people in beds outside,” he said. “While we think that this is the worst that we have seen, it certainly could get much worse than that.”

Evans said healthcare workers are exhausted, but also inspiring as they come back to work every single day to meet these challenges and do so with grace.

“But they are just physically exhausted,” he said. “The patient loads are extremely high with very sick patients. The staff works 12 hours a day and working four to five days in a row.”

Overall, Evans said staff is still in good spirits. He said they have some renewed energy in terms of rising to the occasion but are also met with these feelings of exhaustion as well as general concern.

“They also have family members, children, friends and their own personal health and safety to worry about,” he said. “I think there are a lot of swirling emotions there but overall holding up remarkably well.”

Evans said Sharp is load balancing patients to some extent as each hospital has a different capacity and they are distributing patients as best the can to each hospital.

“Grossmont is always going to be able to absorb more than Chula Vista or Coronado to some extent,” he said.

Scripps Health Chief Medical Officer for Clinical Excellence and Experience Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, M.D. said the number of COVID cases and hospitalizations have significantly increased across the county and that Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista is no exception. As of Dec. 3, the hospital was providing inpatient care to 46 COVID-19 patients, including 12 in the intensive care unit.

“The number of COVID hospitalization at Scripps Chula Vista has been rising in recent weeks, and the hospital’s inpatient occupancy is currently near capacity,” said Sharieff. “Fortunately, with multiple hospitals located across the county, Scripps has the flexibility to transfer patients and move staff to its different locations, to help out as patient demand shifts. Operations at Scripps Chula Vista are currently busy, but we are load balancing our patients across our entire system to assist in caring for them.”

Sharieff said Scripps strongly urges everyone in the community to do their part to slow the spread of cases. He said following the guidelines, wearing masks in public, avoiding gatherings with people outside of their own households, maintaining social distancing while carrying out essential tasks and washing hands regularly are essential in helping slow the spread of the virus.

Evans said people should be self-isolating, following COVID-19 guidelines to avoid hospitalization. But he emphasized that people that have serious health concerns, they should keep in touch with their healthcare provider and seek medical care.

“That is what we are there for. I think people are concerned about selective procedures,” he said. “In the beginning of the pandemic, we had to cancel many of those cases, but that was more related to lack of PPE. Today we find ourselves in a position where we may have to limit because of bed capacity and staff to care for those patients. This is something that we are monitoring every day so people should keep in touch with their healthcare provider. If they are having an emergency, seek healthcare.”

Surging COVID cases placing strain on area hospitals, staff