Written by Breanna Hardy
Kaweah Health called an internal disaster, Code Triage, Wednesday due to more than 50 admitted patients who didn’t have a bed. It’s asking for help from its urgent care centers to alleviate the emergency room backup.It’s the second internal disaster for the health care center in three months – the last one was issued in mid-August.
There were a total of 111 Covid-positive patients seeking care in the emergency department, which is the highest in the state, said CEO Gary Herbst. About 30% of the hospital’s admitted patients are Covid-positive.
Of 111, 51 were admitted and 60 are left to be evaluated by emergency providers. Wait times at the emergency department are exceptionally long because of the overflow, especially for patients not in need of life-saving care.
A Code Triage can put Kaweah Health in a better position to respond to emergencies because of its “all hands on deck” approach with staff. Issuing a Code Triage is a judgement call on behalf of hospital leaders, Herbst said. It doesn’t automatically guarantee that the hospital will receive help at the state or national level. Rather, it helps the staff organize its approach to patient care.
On Wednesday afternoon there were 368 inpatients being cared for in the downtown medical center and zero beds available for additional patients.
In other parts of the medical center, staff is using overflow areas for patient care.
“We live in an area where normally there are a high number of hospitalizations due to chronic illness and high medical needs. Additionally, we have the highest number of Covid-19 patients in the state and there just isn’t enough room for everyone,” said Keri Noeske, Kaweah Health vice president and chief nursing officer.
Noeske said the hospital continues to reach out to the state for help, as well as ask other area hospitals if they can accept transfers. Kaweah Health has spent the past week asking for staffing support.
In early October, the state was able to supply almost 30 nurses to Kaweah Health. They stayed throughout the month. These nurses work through traditional staffing agencies, but Herbst noted that this was the first time during the pandemic that the state fronted the bill. Kaweah Health has been paying upwards of $250 per hour for these nurses.
Kaweah Health has put in a request to extend the staff support, and Wednesday a two-week extension for eight of the nurses was granted to the hospital.
Additionally, it had submitted a request to the state – which was also approved today – for 25 other nurses prior to calling a Code Triage. Seventeen of them arrive this week. Herbst said the health care system has also requested eight more critical care nurses but is waiting to hear back.
“When coupled with staffing shortages, this intense patient demand is putting a significant strain on our organization,” said Herbst. “Declaring an internal disaster mobilizes our resources and initiates our Incident Command Center.”
Tulare County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, ranking No. 45 out of the 58 counties. Some 46.4% of the county is fully vaccinated.