With hospitals full, Central California begs to send COVID-19 patients to LA
The COVID-19 wave that continues to hit Central California is so dire that health officials are urging state officials to make it easier to transfer hospitalized patients to areas such as Los Angeles County.
“We don’t have enough hospitals to serve the population and needs,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, the Fresno County interim health officer. Hospitals throughout the San Joaquin Valley “often have overcapacity, so they keep dozens and dozens of patients in the emergency department.”
Officials in the San Joaquin Valley expect a difficult winter. Vaccination rates are still relatively low, and in Fresno County, the region’s most populous county, the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 is four times higher than LA and Orange counties, and more than five times higher than in the United States. San Francisco Bay Area.
Hospitals consistently operate above capacity, and emergency rooms are still so full that ambulances wait outside hospitals to drop patients off, said Dale Dotson, surgery coordinator for the Central California Emergency Medical Services Agency.
Some hospitals are so busy that ambulance patients suffering from strokes or heart symptoms are being diverted to facilities other than usual to ensure there are enough staff available to care for them when they arrive. Hospitals and ambulance services continue to report problems with staff, Dotson said.
San Joaquin Valley officials are pleading with California state officials to find a way to make it easier to transfer hospitalized patients to other, less-affected areas.
“It’s very difficult to transfer between counties in the state of California,” Vohra said. “If you look at Los Angeles … they have hundreds and hundreds of open beds in Los Angeles County.”
“If we need to transfer patients to keep our hospitals up and running, we really need to be able to do it with one or two phone calls. That’s not the case right now. So that’s a point of frustration that we’re hearing from multiple different facilities,” Vohra said. “We’re trying to decompress as much as possible in anticipation of those winter numbers.”
It was not immediately clear why hospitals in Fresno County are reporting problems transferring patients to other parts of the state.
“The bureaucracy … it’s kind of opaque,” said Vohra. “Of course every hospital has a transfer center and they are very used to doing transfers. But then other hospitals have to accept that.”
The LA County Department of Health Services said in a statement that it “welcomes patients from other counties and ensures that health services are readily available to residents of our county.”
The San Joaquin Valley has the worst COVID-19 hospitalization rate in all of California, with nearly 800 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in a region of more than 4 million people. In contrast, all of LA County has 558 COVID-19 patients, despite a population of more than 10 million people.
For every 100,000 residents, Fresno County has 22 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals; while LA and Orange counties have six, and the San Francisco Bay Area has four. Some experts say it’s a sign of concern when the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is five or worse.
Only 55% of Fresno County residents are complete vaccinated. Statewide, the rate is about 63%; it is 65% in LA and Ventura counties, 66% in Orange County, 69% in San Diego County, and 78% in San Francisco.
A big test of late fall and early winter will be the weeks after Thanksgiving, when officials will scrutinize the COVID-19 numbers to see if a surge is emerging from holiday weekend gatherings.
A plausible scenario could be that the San Joaquin Valley is hit relatively hard by a winter wave, the San Francisco Bay Area is much less affected, and Southern California is somewhere in the middle, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco.
An increase in infections in the Central Valley could put a lot of pressure on local hospitals if many people who are infected are not vaccinated, who are much more likely to become seriously ill than those who have had their injections and only suffer from breakthrough infections .
“I think for the most part [the Central Valley] will continue to suffer from an overload of hospital resources. So I think it is very wise and foresight of them to make arrangements now” to prepare for a winter wave, Chin-Hong said.
Vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 is likely to have a major effect on the severity of the winter wave in each region. While only 7% of Fresno County children in this age range have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, approximately 12% of these children have received it in LA,San Diego and Orange provinces.