As Christmas draws within a week, Fresno County faces a grim health care system as COVID-19 cases are starting to overrun hospitals.
Per the last update by the state on Friday, Fresno County has 553 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 and 39 additional patients who are suspected of having the coronavirus. Of that total of 592, 106 of those patients are being cared for in the various ICU beds across the county.
Fresno County has 150 ICU beds in total, and county Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said local hospitals are housing ICU patients in emergency departments because of the lack of available ICU beds throughout the county.
“We are in a very grim, challenging time when it comes to the pandemic, and our hospitals – as well as the rest of our health care system – are experiencing just a considerable number of different stresses that are both reflected in these numbers and not adequately – in my opinion – summarized by just the sheer amount of different factors that are contributing to the many different stressors that our hospitals are facing,” Vohra said in a Friday briefing.
With the increase in hospitalizations, the county opened a 50-bed alternate care site at the North Plaza building at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno for non-COVID-19 patients.
Central California Emergency Medical Services Director Dan Lynch said the site had a “soft-opening” Friday admitting 12 patients. He expects the facility to be able to utilize all 50 beds if needed by Monday.
“It’s badly needed right now,” Lynch said. “The hospitals are really in crisis mode right now with the number of patients within their hospital.”
Lynch said once the Community Regional alternate care site reaches a capacity of 40-45, the county will activate the alternate care site at the convention center in downtown Fresno for the first time, which will be able to house up to 250 patients.
“The unfortunate reality is that we kind of expect that we’re going to end up opening up the convention center,” Lync said. “The way the demand is with the hospitals right now, it just appears that we’re heading in that direction.”
The underlying issue with opening up these alternate care sites lies with the struggle to find enough staffing. Fortunately, Lynch reported that local hospitals will receive staffing assistance from the state.
Also, a Department of Defense Air Force team will arrive at Community Regional Medical Center on Dec. 28 to help ease the health care workers.
“That is a team that will specifically be assigned to the ICU to help expand the surge capacity in the ICU area of CRMC, which is a huge benefit to Community Regional Medical Center,” Lynch said. “That’s badly needed. There’s a lot of resources being sent to our area, which is a great thing.”
Along with the staffing, EMS is also seeking to ease the surge on emergency rooms. Lynch said EMS is implementing an assess and refer policy Friday evening, meaning the paramedics on dispatch for emergency ambulance calls will assess patients on the scene and determine if a trip to the emergency room is necessary. If not, paramedics will refer patients to an urgent care or another suitable service.
“That’s the situation we’re in right now to show the urgency of protecting those emergency departments in that hospital system,” Lynch said.
As hospitals are facing the surge of COVID-19 cases, they are also continuing to receive vaccine doses from the county and state for the frontline health care workers.
Joe Prado, a community health manager with the public health department, said Fresno County will receive a shipment of 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine early next week. The county received 7,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week.
Once the Moderna vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Prado said Fresno County expects to receive about 14,800 doses of that vaccine next week as well.