kaweah delta medical center

published on January 10, 2022 - 2:32 PM
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Hospital staff is dwindling because of the rapidly spreading omicron variant

Visalia’s Kaweah Health Medical Center is running its hospital at full capacity while its health care professionals are out on Covid leave. 

The numbers show a steep incline in positive cases among hospital workers since last month alone, impacting nearly all units of the hospital – medical surgical, labor and delivery, dialysis, ICU and the emergency department.

The health system has 205 staff members out on Covid-related leave as of today, up from 82 on Jan. 3. On Nov. 29, the health system saw 24 workers out on Covid leave, and 33 on Dec. 27. 

Aside from the increasing number of employees out on Covid leave, there are more than 150 open nursing positions waiting to be filled. 

Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Keri Noeski said, “Omicron is highly contagious and highly transmissible and it’s disabling workforces, not just ours, but everyone we rely on.”

Kaweah Health is asking the community to be safe and cautious about spreading the virus with hand washing, social distancing, masking and vaccination. 

“Anything we can do to prevent the spread in the community will help Valley hospitals with staffing,” Noeski said.

Because of the staff shortage issues, the California Department of Public Health announced over the weekend that it would allow health care staff to return to work after testing positive as long as they are showing no symptoms. This came after the Centers for Disease Control said it would allow health care workers to return to work after five days of being Covid-positive. 

Employees who return to work immediately are required to wear a fitted N95 mask, and the CDPH encourages these employees to care for Covid-positive patients, though for some hospitals that’s not always possible.  

“So that’s all transpired just in a week’s time is that the CDPH went from the 10-day quarantine down to a five-day quarantine with a negative test at the end of five days, to now no quarantine whatsoever,” Kaweah Health CEO Gary Herbst said.

However, Herbst says it’s taking a more conservative approach to the quarantine time based on a CDC transmissibility study. Kaweah Health is recommending a seven-day quarantine for its Covid-positive staff.

According to the study, the transmissibility for a 10-day quarantine is less than 2%. After seven days of quarantine, the number rises to 13% risk of transmissibility, and at five days it’s 43%. 

The study doesn’t talk about zero days, but Herbst said, “It’s my speculation that it’s close to 100% at zero days.”

He said that a 43% transmission rate is too high for Kaweah Health’s comfort. And while seven days isn’t perfect, it allows flexibility and a shortened quarantine than before. 

“We felt that that 13% risk factor was something that we were willing to accept in keeping the workforce intact. So that really was kind of the science behind our decision to adopt the seven day,” he said. 

It came down to the safety of patients, employees and visitors, Herbst said. 

Several patients have postponed elective surgeries or other types of care when the pandemic first hit, and now are needing treatment for more severe illnesses, complicating the staffing issue and hospitalization rates.

“We still have plenty of patients here that need us to take care of them and this rapid increase of positive cases among our staff is troublesome,” said Noeski.

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