Virus Surge Grows More Urgent as Cases Flood Hospitals

Photo courtesy USC-VHH
USC Verdugo Hills Hospital CEO Keith Hobbs recently received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as part of the first wave of inoculations for health-care workers. Officials are anxiously awaiting additional doses of the Moderna vaccine as coronavirus cases soar in L.A. County and continue to rise locally.

Los Angeles County continues to reel from people’s lack of adherence to health guidelines during the Thanksgiving holiday, as hospitals have become inundated with COVID-19 patients.
On Wednesday, the county Department of Public Health reported a record 8,023 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized, and officials expect that number to climb over the next few weeks. Coronavirus cases in the county doubled in just one month, from 400,000 to 800,000, and Public Health officials said one in five residents currently tested is infected.
Locally, there has been a total of 523 COVID-19 cases in La Cañada Flintridge as of Wednesday, an uptick of 71 from the previous week.
“I know that when the pandemic started this past spring in 2020, we all hoped or thought by the end of 2020, by the new year, we wouldn’t be in this position and the worst would be over,” Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s director of health services, said in an update on Monday. “But today, unfortunately, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that given the current state of the pandemic in Los Angeles County, the worst is almost certainly still ahead of us.”
Some hospitals have reportedly been running low on oxygen tanks and other supplies, but Ghaly said the most “constrained resource” is staff members.
Nurses and doctors are taking extra shifts to take care of as many patients as possible, but fatigue and stress have taken a toll.
“Staff is tired,” said USC Verdugo Hills Hospital CEO Keith Hobbs. “Fatigue has set in. There was concern the community didn’t adhere to some of the guidelines around Thanksgiving as far as physical distancing and not getting together with folks outside of your immediate family. As a result of that, we’re seeing a dramatic spike.”
USC-VHH has hired additional
non-nursing staff to assist in nursing units, such as runners who can get supplies. The hospital has been able to secure a good amount of personal protective equipment and oxygen tanks, which have been running low in some hospitals throughout Los Angeles.
The local hospital is currently in phase six of eight of its surge plan, the highest it has ever been since the pandemic began last spring. USC-VHH has transformed areas in the hospital into units in an effort to take care of the growing number of patients with coronavirus.
The emergency department at USC-VHH and its counterparts at most hospitals in Southern California have been on diversion, telling ambulance companies that they are saturated. However, ambulances still arrive and patients are still given care, according to Hobbs.
“We haven’t had to turn anybody away,” he said. “But during the spike situation, there have been slight delays where they’ve had to manage the patient in the ambulance for a brief period of time until a spot opens up in the emergency department.”
With a scarcity of resources, beds and staff, Ghaly said, many hospitals have reached a point of crisis and are having to make difficult decisions with patient care.
Huntington Hospital in Pasadena recently posted a letter on its website informing the community that the board of directors established a clinical committee — consisting of doctors, a community member, spiritual care provider, bioethics designee and other experts — that adopted new protocols “that will guide clinical decision making in the event of a further surge of COVID-19 patients.”
The letter also states that the decision was made to “ensure our hospital can act quickly to allocate resources in the most effective way to best treat the most patients possible.” Though the policy has not been enacted, Huntington officials wanted to be transparent with the community.
USC-VHH has a similar committee that would make such difficult decisions should the situation worsen, but they “haven’t had to use it yet,” according to Hobbs.
L.A. County reached a grievous milestone on Tuesday, surpassing 11,000 deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began after reporting 224 deaths on Tuesday.
County and hospital officials urge residents to do their part in minimizing the spread to help ease the stress on health-care workers.
“Continue physical distancing, wash your hands and don’t get together with friends or family outside of your household,” Hobbs said. “We’ve got to be able to flatten this curve from the spike we’re seeing because we’re going to eventually run out of plans to accommodate every patient in the community that needs care.”

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