Local hospital in ‘internal disaster mode’

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Southern California hospitals are filling up with coronavirus patients so quickly that many are at the breaking point and have begun putting off care for people with non-critical ailments or injuries.

On Wednesday Sara Kahn, president of medical staff at San Antonio Regional Hospital sent an email to medical staff providers declaring, “we are in internal disaster mode.”

“The hospital is experiencing its worst surge yet, we have 141 hospitalized Covid patients at this time, we are short on staff, on beds and especially TELE beds. The ER is currently holding approximately 50 patients who have been admitted and who we have not been able to make room for, and the patients and the ambulances keep coming,” Dr. Kahn wrote.

She implores her colleagues to do whatever they can to avoid sending patients to the hospital including “observation admissions.” She also announced that all elective procedures and surgeries for the following day were canceled.

The COURIER spoke with San Antonio Hospital President and CEO John Chapman who confirmed the seriousness of the situation at the hospital.

Wednesday was an extraordinary day for people seeking treatment, including COVID-19 patients. Hospital staff had to open up “surge wards” to accommodate all of the patients who were admitted. He said all of the 50 people admitted on Wednesday who initially did not have beds were eventually accommodated but the greater problem is staffing.

“Yesterday was a surge day,” Mr. Chapman said. “And we need help.”

Back in July when there was a surge in coronavirus cases here in Southern California, other regions of the state and the country had very few cases, so institutions like San Antonio could get temporary nursing staff to cover extra shifts. Now that the virus outbreak is dire across the country, the pool of available staff has vanished.

The recent staggering increase in patients is the unfortunate result of people getting together during the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Mr. Chapman. He said it takes three to seven days for symptoms to begin but most people who become sick assume they will get better on their own and don’t seek care. However, by the seventh day of the illness many begin experiencing shortness of breath and that is when they end up in the hospital.

“Just walk it backwards and what you have is Thanksgiving,” he said.

He said that Thursday was a “like a trough in a wave” with fewer COVID patients than the day before but, like the waves, they keep coming.

Friday in Los Angeles County was certainly not a trough but a tsunami, with the department of public health reporting a record 13,815 new cases, surpassing Thursday’s total of 12,819. The county has recorded an astonishing 93,239 cases since December 1 and new cases topped 10,000 three of the last six days.

Claremont continues to see steady increases in new cases with the county reporting 19 new cases on Friday and 917 cumulative cases. Sadly, one more Claremont resident has died bring our total to 16.

Inland county health officials had asked the California Department of Public Health for help staffing hospitals. However, of the 180 additional workers requested, they received just 18.

Without help from overwhelmed county and state agencies, and with all Southern California hospitals at or near capacity, the only help our local hospitals can hope for is from the community. It’s of critical importance that people take the risk of contracting the coronavirus seriously and heed the health department order to stay home as much as possible, while avoiding gathering with people not in their immediate household. Wear a mask when in public, practice physical distancing and wash your hands.

“The only partner we have in this is the community,” Mr. Chapman said


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