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Orange County hospital employees are becoming increasingly tired after hospitalizations saw a dramatic increase since the beginning of June and have remained somewhat steady, but high, the past week.
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“When you are looking at the number of [beds] available, either ICU or the hospital, it is not just the bed itself. What we are experiencing now is staff fatigue. So we have a lot of nurses, you know it’s been five months now. They’re struggling with that. Some of them have been infected. And so the availability of nurses to make sure that the hospital functions is something [that’s] a big concern for us, at the state level,” interim health officer Dr. Clayton Chau told Supervisors at their regular Tuesday meeting.
No Supervisor asked questions about the hospital staff getting burned out.
One employee who works at Kindred Hospital in Westminster, which is a long term care facility, said they had to recently work two 12 hour shifts, with just a few hours off between the shifts. They said many of their colleagues are experiencing the same thing.
“I think everybody’s tired. This has gone on for five months, we haven’t taken vacations. We’ve sort of been on high alert for this whole period, so I’m not surprised that people at other hospitals are feeling the same way,” said Dr. Saahir Khan in a Wednesday phone interview, who works at the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.
Khan, who treats virus patients at UC Irvine Medical Center, said the demand is taking its toll on people.
“So we were expected to work continuously, which I think is not unreasonable — it’s a national emergency. But after five months of that, I think it’s wearing on a lot of people,” Khan said.
County Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel raised questions about the county’s hospitalized coronavirus patients, saying hospital officials told her that some patients didn’t originally go in for the virus, but for other procedures.
But CalOptima board Chairman, Dr. Paul Yost, said that’s not happening.
“That’s not true. They’re not getting hospitalized. We’re only counting COVID hospitalizations that are in the hospitals, that are admitted for a medical reason. That’s just misinformation for whatever political purpose that person has. If they test positive, they’re never categorized as a hospital patient because they cancel them before they get admitted,” Yost said in a Wednesday phone interview.
At Tuesday’s public Supervisors meeting, Steel said hospital officials told her people come in for other procedures like a knee replacement, but then test positive for the virus and are then considered COVID patients.
“So they are all reporting that they are COVID patients, instead of … coming in with other surgeries,” Steel Chau. “So did we separate that on our website? Are we getting [that information] from the hospitals?”
Chau said he would ask state and hospital officials about her concerns.
Most hospitals test people for the virus before they are admitted to the hospital, regardless of what procedures they need, Yost said.
Yost, an anesthesiologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, also said his hospital has largely cut elective surgeries, which are procedures for non-life threatening issues.
“We’re just doing cases that we can send home very quickly that don’t require more than an overnight stay, so the patients aren’t very sick. We definitely avoid any cases that would involve going to a nursing home or a long term facility,” he said, noting there’s exceptions for things like heart attacks.
Yost urged people to keep following public health guidelines to stop hospitals from getting overloaded.
“Please wear a mask, social distance and follow all the recommended guidelines — because hospitals right now, they are not safe places to be and people are getting tired, people are overworked and we don’t need more patients. Have some common sense,” Yost said.
A daily situation report from the county Office of Emergency Services on Wednesday stated hospitalizations are remaining steady, but are still high.
“Hospitalizations have leveled some in recent days, however are still elevated and are up increased 30% in the past month from 492 to 640,” the report states, using Tuesday’s hospitalizations numbers.
“Some of the recent trends are encouraging showing some reduction in disease transmission and leveling of hospitalizations, however, we still need further reduction in disease transmission to protect the hospitals and healthcare systems,” reads the report.
Meanwhile, the virus has now killed 587 people out of 35,272 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
There’s 626 people hospitalized, including 204 in intensive care units.
Nearly 405,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
Chau told Supervisors that some hospitals are looking for outside staffing.
We have three large hospitals in our county [that] are requesting support from the state and for more staffing – and specifically nursing staffing, not so much physician. So we know that’s something we are watching very closely. So bed availability, ventilator availability is good, but it doesn’t mean that those beds are available if you do not have the nursing staff to support it.”
Khan said other parts of the country may need the help more than OC since the hospitalization numbers look somewhat stable. He also said hospital staff should be better taken care of during the pandemic.
“A lot of people and hospital leadership have been saying a lot of words that we appreciate how hard our staff is working and putting up signs and banners, but I think at the end of the day, most staff want to be appropriately compensated and want to be protected and want to have reasonable working conditions. So those are the real tangible things that can be done.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.