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After One-Day Halt, Imperial County Hospitals Again Taking COVID-19 Patients

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After diverting ambulances elsewhere for a day because of a spike in cases, Imperial County’s hospitals again are accepting COVID-19 patients.

Speaker 1: 00:01 Officials in Imperial County, say a field hospital is going up in the region and the next few days to help hospitals cope with an increase of covert 19 patients that counties, two main hospitals, El central regional and pioneers Memorial hospital in Brawley. We're overwhelmed by a surge of coronavirus patients starting last weekend and they sent out an emergency call for help earlier this week. Hospitals in San Diego and Riverside County has accepted 36 patients from the region. Now Imperial County hospitals have called off the alert journey. May is San Diego union Tribune, health reporter Paul Sisson and Paul, welcome to the program. When we talk about a surge, how many COBIT 19 patients are we talking about?

Speaker 2: 00:45 Uh, El Centro regional, uh, when they made their call earlier this week, had a total of 65 patients in beds. Um, many of those were in their emergency department, which only has 20 beds. We heard stories, uh, went out there yesterday of them having to put patients in hallways in the ER and in chairs. Sounds like it got quite inundated over the weekend.

Speaker 1: 01:09 And is it fair to say that the hospitals in Imperial Valley have a somewhat limited capacity to see a number of critically ill patients at once,

Speaker 2: 01:18 right? Uh, between El central, regional and pioneers, uh, hospital, uh, in Brawley nearby, they have, uh, something like, uh, 270 or so beds. I think it's under 300 total. Whereas if you look at San Diego County, we've got North of 6,000. So kind of puts it in perspective.

Speaker 1: 01:40 What was the scene like on Tuesday and Wednesday when San Diego and Riverside responded to the hospital's emergency call?

Speaker 2: 01:47 It was, it was quite inspiring, honestly. Uh, you know, they scrambled out what they call an ambulance strike team from San Diego, uh, and worked with, uh, AMR, American medical response ambulance operators to surge, uh, quite a few ambulances into the area and start picking up and transferring patients from the hospitals that were hardest hit. Uh, they're an Imperial County and that brigade continued, uh, yesterday with helicopters coming in for the, for the sickest patients. And, uh, you know, quickly sending flight flight nurses down into the ER and talking with the local nurses at the hospital about okay, who's in the worst shape, who, who needs a helicopter ride versus an ambulance ride either up to Riverside County or out San Diego County. They said that out of, uh, El center regional where I was yesterday and in a 24 hour period they had transferred 27 patients.

Speaker 1: 02:43 What's causing this surge in cases in Imperial County?

Speaker 2: 02:46 Well, it appears to be linked to the significant outbreak that's going on South of the border in, uh, in Northern Baja California. You know, we don't really have in the States total clarity on exactly how fierce that outbreak is. Uh, but it does seem to be generating a lot of patients just down in Mexico and it does appear and has been overwhelming hospital capacity in Tijuana. And then also now we're hearing about a fair amount of inundation in Mexicali. Uh, no one, uh, that I spoke to at the hospitals in San Diego County and Imperial County seem to have a total handle on exactly what's going on in Mexicali hospitals. There. There has been, it seems like some significant communication gap there, but it does appear that will over the last weekend that they saw quite a, a surge of folks coming across the border at uh, at the Mexicali order crossing, especially, uh, they say that these generally were American citizens living in Mexico and or a legal residence. You also have a large number of essential workers who live in Mexico and cross the border coming North to do jobs in the U S so it's a, it's still a pretty active border even though travel restrictions into the U S from Mexico have been significantly reduced for months now.

Speaker 1: 04:10 And what do we know about the field hospital that's supposed to be in place in the next day or two? What kind of support will that add?

Speaker 2: 04:16 Yeah, we, we don't, we don't know as much as perhaps we might. Like I, I saw some, uh, accounts from, uh, Imperial County media organizations, uh, saying that it's not quite a hospital. It's going to be more like a, um, longterm care facility to some degree. It will be stamped with medical professionals. It's going to be in the gym. It looks like at the Imperial Valley college out there. Uh, and it looks like a, the state and federal governments will be working together to put about 80 beds in there. I've heard that they're going to be, uh, relocate itself from Santa Clara where they weren't being used. Uh, and so they'll, uh, I guess they're supposed to get that. Uh, what I've been told is by the end of the week, it may be that it's going up right now. I haven't really been able to get ahold of anybody out there this morning to get an update on exactly how that's going, but it looks like it should be put together quite soon. And I'm told that you know, what's going to happen with this facility is they will use it for patients who were treated at the Imperial County hospitals, uh, and they'll, those that are stable but have Cove ID would be able to, to be transferred over to this field station that they're setting up. That way they would be able to free up beds in the hospital for patients who are not stable. And who are in a more severe situation.

Speaker 1: 05:34 And Paul, you spoke with a nurse at El Centro regional who described the situation at the high point last weekend, and she had some words of wisdom for people who are still not taking this fire as seriously.

Speaker 2: 05:45 Yeah. You know, the closer you get to the bedside and this outbreak that the more passionate people seem to become when they, it seems like when they've seen this thing unfold with their own eyes, they are a little shocked to that many in the community feel like, you know, that there are these different categories of Tessa. You know, you've heard some people talk about pure deaths, the deaths that have no other, um, contributing conditions, uh, and, and they just, uh, they, they talk about having to watch people die, uh, with no loved ones by their side. Do the fact that they're currently really in hospitals is no visitation for anyone, uh, you know, and so, uh, they just wonder, you know, does this have to come for your own loved one before for, you'll believe that this is serious? You know, it's, uh, it's a very, um, eyeopening experience to, to care for these patients. I've been speaking with San Diego, union Tribune, health reporter Paul Sisson, and Paul, thanks a lot. Pleasure.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.