Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ambulances forced to wait

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, January 10th>>>>

Ambulances waiting longer to drop off patients.

More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….######

The number of people in San Diego county hospitals has more than doubled in the last 30 days now up to 943 according to the latest state figures out on sunday. In the past month, confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped from about 4,700 per week to more than 45,000 cases reported in the seven days between Dec. 29, 2021 through Jan. 4, 2022, according to county data.. That’s nearly a tenfold increase in just 30 days.

########

The search for San Diego Unified's next superintendent is now on pause. District officials announced on (friday) that all activities related to the search are postponed for the month of january because of the current covid surge. Christopher rice-wilson is chairman of the superintendent search committee. He says the delay will last at least into early february.

“we can still do the community input process, we can still make a final decision. the district is in capable hands right now..it gives the district a chance to work through this latest surge and protect as many people as possible.”

#########

The final jobs report of 2021 had more good news for the US economy. Miro Copic is founder of Bottom Line Marketing and the business commentator for KPBS. He says the report shows an impressive economic recovery.

The economy has generated back almost 19 million jobs and what was really heartening about the jobs report wasn't the official jobs report but the jobs report on the number of employees private sector companies have added, which was more than double those forcast."

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

As hospitals fill up in the county because of COVID … emergency room delays are causing a back up in the system. Ambulances are having to wait longer to drop off patients.

KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado tells us paramedics and EMTs are also getting sick, putting more of a strain on the system.

THERE’S NO ROOM OR IT’S PRETTY SCARCE IN MANY EMERGENCY ROOMS ACROSS SAN DIEGO COUNTY. COVID INFECTIONS ARE SPREADING FASTER THAN EVER BECAUSE OF THE MORE CONTAGIOUS OMICRON VARIANT. JEFF BEHM IS THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF FALCK SAN DIEGO, THE CITY’S EMERGENCY SERVICES CONTRACTOR. HE SAYS HE’S NEVER SEEN COVID CALLS AS HIGH AS NOW AND HE WENT THROUGH THE SURGE ON THE EAST COAST IN 2020

this is the worst situation that we’re seeing because of the call volume because there’s no lock down everybody's out and about doing their thing

CALL VOLUME HAS INCREASED 30 PERCENT SINCE CHRISTMAS, AS A RESULT AMBULANCES ARE HAVING TO WAIT LONGER OUTSIDE THE HOSPITALS TO DROP OFF PATIENTS BECAUSE STAFFED BEDS ARE SCARCE …

We have been at hospitals for up to three hours waiting with patients…so that is just a reduction in the units that are out in the field trying to send an ambulance people that need out help and so that’s hitting us really hard

PEOPLE HAVING TO WAIT MORE THAN AN HOUR AND A HALF IN EMERGENCY ROOMS HAS MORE THAN DOUBLED. THAT FORCES PARAMEDICS TO PROVIDE MORE THAN EMERGENCY TRANSPORTATION

we’re just walking into a hospital trying to turn a patient over and we’re basically providing another service that we’re not getting compensated for to care for a patient while they’re on the hospital property

THEY ARE STRUGGLING TO KEEP UP WITH DEMAND

We need to triage and that’s what happens under circumstances like this when you’re dealing with a certain amount of units but a volume that’s higher than those units can respond to and we want to make sure that we get to the life threatening situation

EMS DEPUTY CHIEF JODI PIERCE OF SAN DIEGO FIRE-RESCUE SAYS STAFFING SHORTAGES AND BED AVAILABILITY ARE THE TWO FACTORS THAT ARE AFFECTING THE ENTIRE SYSTEM BUT THE MUTUAL AID SYSTEM IS FILLING THE NEED

San Diego county agencies whether public or private have really come together to meet the needs of our communities, through increased communications resource sharing we are prepared to respond to any incident and provide the care

KITTY ALVARADO KPBS NEWS

##########

Last week, 86 San Diego city employees were sent advanced termination notices for not complying with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. But that doesn’t include employees who’ve filed requests to be exempt, either for medical or religious reasons. KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser has details on who’s filing those requests.

Nearly 1,100 city of San Diego employees have so far filed exemption requests…and more than half of them work for the San Diego Police Department.

As of Wednesday, the city had received 525 requests from police—that’s more than 20% of the entire department.

Other city departments with high numbers of requests include fire, transportation, environmental services and storm water.

The numbers are particularly concerning to public health experts because employees in those departments have the most frequent interactions with the public, especially the police. And people don’t always have a choice about whether they come in close contact with police officers, says Rebecca Fielding-Miller, an epidemiologist at UC San Diego.

Rebecca Fielding-Miller

UCSD Epidemiologist

“It’s not like you can just walk away from a police officer if you don’t feel safe… if it's mandatory that you have to spend time with somebody face to face, then that other person should have to be vaccinated because it's an airborne infectious disease.”

The police and fire unions did not return requests for comment.

The city will review each exemption request on a case-by-case basis and may reach out to employees for additional information, says spokeswoman Nicole Darling.

Nicole Darling

San Diego Spokeswoman

“It involves human resources reviewing the employees’ written submissions as well as communications with the employee to really determine the employee’s circumstances and appropriate potential accommodations.”

Employees could either request medical or religious exemptions, but the bulk—almost 96%—filed religious exemptions. The medical exemptions require the employee to fill out a three-page questionnaire about their health condition and have a health care professional fill out a “Reasonable Accommodation Medical Documentation Form.”

The religious exemptions require the employee to identify their religion or belief system and then describe the specific tenet, belief or practice that conflicts with the city’s vaccination requirement.

And if an employee has received other vaccinations – like tetanus shots, flu shots or childhood vaccinations – the form asks them to explain how their religious beliefs prevent them from getting the COVID vaccine but not the others.

No additional information is required, but the form says the city may follow up with the employee for “additional supporting information and documentation.”

The city has yet to approve or deny any of the requests.

This week, nearly 200 SDPD employees had to isolate or quarantine because of COVID exposure and the fire department announced that so many of its employees were in isolation due to testing positive for COVID that it had to implement emergency staffing procedures and shut down multiple fire units each day.

This is concerning to Fielding-Miller, the epidemiologist.

“I don't want fire stations to be having essentially rolling blackouts because so many people are infected that we can't have our ability to respond to emergencies is hampered…“you can't do your job. If you are isolated. And the more people who aren't vaccinated, the more COVID is going to be in that social network.”

Claire Trageser, KPBS News

##########

PG&E will likely be the first utility to access California’s wildfire liability fund…it’s a multi-billion dollar fund set up by lawmakers to help cover the cost of wildfires caused by utilities. PG&E’s equipment was found to have started the massive Dixie Fire. CapRadio’s Scott Rodd reports.

In 2019, California had a utility crisis. The state’s biggest electricity providers were causing increasingly deadly and costly wildfires. PG&E had already declared bankruptcy as a result.

It was one of Governor Gavin Newsom’s first big tests in office.

NEWSOM-1: “This is a serious moment. And as I’ve said, I’ll remind you, it’s not just about turning on your lights, it’s not just about paying your electric bills. It’s literally about the economy of this state.”

The governor and lawmakers had only a few months to figure it out. So they put together a $21 billion fund that would help cover the cost of wildfires caused by utilities.

The companies pay for half of it; customer rate increases make up the rest.

Michael Wara is a senior research scholar at Stanford University. He expects PG&E will be the first to tap into the pot of money.

WARA-1: “It's a good dry run, frankly, for the fund. Because there's a whole bunch of processes that need to be established and tested so that the fund is really ready.”

Utilities have to cover up to a billion dollars in damages before accessing the fund.

PG&E expects claims from the Dixie Fire…the second largest blaze in state history…to only slightly exceed that $1 billion threshold.

##########

The military has continued to be on the front lines of the pandemic, with military medical teams dispatched to hospitals overwhelmed by covid. One of those teams is from San Diego.

KPBS reporter Kitty Alvarado tells us they were sent to a hospital on the brink of collapse…

San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington New Mexico serves a vast area in the Four Corners. Dr Brad Greenberg, medical director of emergency preparedness at the hospital says they care for all people no matter who they are or where they come from.

We serve a mixture of urban, rural and frontier areas and also a referral center for many of the facilities that exist on the Navajo Nation

COVID has not been kind to the region, they’ve had five COVID waves and the last 13 weeks have been especially tough

we were on the verge of a of a true clinical catastrophe we did not have enough personnel to take care of the really incredibly high numbers of critically ill folks

the Navy came to their rescue: two 23 member Navy Medical Response Teams from San Diego’s Navy Medical Center.

Commander Dr. Nikunj Bhatt, the senior medical officer says they are proud to carry out this mission

I can’t imagine being anywhere else except being on the front lines of patient care

I was really really shocked when I heard that they had so many people that were on the ventilators

Daniela Jenkins is an ICU nurse with the navy team. Before the military, she worked at a civilian hospital

I know how hard it is to be short staffed and … it has been really amazing to hear these nurses say it hasn’t been like this in like a month

Dr. Greenberg says the Navy’s arrival did wonders for the hospital and morale.

boy what a finally a little bit of a tail wind some inspiration and feeling like we’re all in this together

He says they saved the hospital from collapse, many lives in the process.

Any patient that makes it, it almost like heals our soul… those are the wins that just they keep me going

Not every story ends this way, but Lt Commander Charles Volks, a pulmonary critical care doctor says losing a patient doesn't mean failure.

part of our job is you know to be there if we can’t cure someone or heal them is to care for them you know at the end of their life and make sure that the end of their life this as good as possible

Jenkins says success is also measured by those they treat with compassion, even when patients can’t feel it.

That time is so special because that is time the patient is not going to remember but the family does

These heroes are human and these experiences leave their mark

Dr Bhatt says showing emotion isn’t a sign of weakness

15:39:13 there are times where is hard it really is hard and you just have to step away from it we’re all human and there’s times where I’ve cried

absolutely

Nurse Jenkins says seeing death is hard and experiencing loss during the holidays somehow feels different

Walking into a room and seeing lifeless soul there it’s hard it’s not easy especially on Christmas day that was tough

But those experiences have changed them for the better too and they will carry the stories of this community with them forever

Dr Bhatt says they learned from those they cared for

we were very close the Navajo nation and hearing some of their stories and practices all those things are very touching for us and it’s been a profound kind of experience

Dr Greenberg says they too will live on in the hearts of the staff and community because the answered the call when they needed them the most

our sincerest appreciation for your sacrifices and free willingness to come out here in and help make a difference

And news of their good work traveled to their mayor Todd Gloria in San Diego

I thank them from the bottom my heart I thank them they represent the best of this country the best of our city

This means a lot to those who served on this mission for over a month, through the holidays and New Year …

Honestly that’s all that matters is thank you, it matters a lot those two words mean a lot to us

But as they were leaving another COVID wave is hitting the rest of the country, that is not lost on Dr Greenberg

we’re sitting right at the edge of our seats waiting for the omicron to really make itself known within the state of New Mexico and the region

As this virus continues to mutate, there are so many unknowns … but having heroes like these on the front lines … 1000 of them who will soon be deployed, brings hope to those communities that are facing or are about to face the worst.

Coming up.... The controversial “remain in Mexico” policy resumed last week, sending two asylum seekers to Tijuana while their cases are pending.

We’ll have more on that next, just after the break.

Last week marked the return of the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy, with two asylum seekers in San Diego sent back to Tijuana to await the resolution of their cases.

The program began during the Trump administration. The Biden administration tried to end it, but was forced by the courts to reinstate it. Remain in Mexico is hugely controversial with the immigrant rights community – they hoped the new president would handle asylum cases very differently. Kate Morrissey is a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, who’s been covering the story. She spoke with KPBS Midday Edition Host Jade Hindmon on friday.

So Kate, Bring us up to speed here. What led to the restarting of this program earlier this week,

the Program as a whole actually restarted in December, but it restarted here at the San Diego Tijuana border this week. And so this comes from a federal judge in a case brought by Texas and Missouri over the way that the Biden administration ended the program last year when they were initially trying to wind it down. And the judge decided that the program had been ended incorrectly and ordered that it be as part of that, the Biden administration has actually in some ways expanded the program. Particularly when you look at which nationalities they have said are eligible to be returned, that has grown to actually be the entire Western hemisphere, which was not the case when this program existed under the Trump administration. And so we have her a lot of criticism from folks saying that the Biden administration is sort of using the judge's order as an excuse to bring back the program because it's reverting to this mindset of deterrence. That is sort of a longstanding way that the United States has addressed people coming to its border, including asylum seekers.

Speaker 1: (01:41)

And let's go into that a little deeper. Talk more about, what's been the reaction to the return of this policy.

Speaker 2: (01:48)

Well, locally, a lot of the organizations that are generally involved in supporting asylum seekers in the San Diego Tijuana region, um, all of these legal services organizations are refusing to cooperate with the program. The Biden administration in Texas found a group of attorneys willing to sort of be a, a hotline for some of the people being returned there, but they have not found someone to do that work as far as I can tell in the San Diego region. And we're hearing, you know, just everyone is so frustrated that this program is coming back is a key campaign point for the president that he was going to get rid of this program. And I've heard a lot of people arguing that there were other ways that the administration could have responded to the judge's order. There are still court cases out there trying to get this program ruled as a legal anyway, and, and the Biden administration still pursuing the previous administration's defenses of the program in, in those court cases.

Speaker 1: (02:50)

What do we know about the asylum seekers who were sent back

Speaker 2: (02:54)

So far? There have been across the border more than 200 people who have been returned the first day in San Diego, Wednesday, there were two people, it was two men from Columbia. I believe there were seven more the next day. And, and we have yet to see, um, how many are coming back today Friday. So it's sort of slowly increasing in, in the numbers that are being returned. What we do know about the larger number at the Texas border is that these are largely nationalities who were previously being allowed into the United States to pursue their asylum claims. And that's significant because there is a second border policy from the Trump administration that has carried over and been continued and defended by the Biden administration at is the title 42 policy, uh, which started under the pandemic and gives officials this ability to expel people without allowing them to access the asylum system.

Speaker 2: (03:50)

And what we've seen lately is that policy being applied to certain nationalities, but not as much to others. So we see that happening to people from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and what we've heard from officials, and what we've seen on the ground is that people of those nationalities are still being selected for title 42, rather than remain in Mexico. So remain in Mexico is more happening to people from Nicaragua. For example, where you have a president, who's basically made himself into a dictator. And so anybody who is politically dissenting there is not safe. And so we do see a lot of people fleeing here from Nicaragua asking for protection. And in Texas, that's been the largest group returned. Some

Speaker 1: (04:33)

Of the criticism is also that this policy has the stint of racism on it. Can you talk a bit about that? I

Speaker 2: (04:39)

Think that goes back to this idea of deterrent that the United States has had for decades in its approach to border management, which is based in this belief that people arriving at the border is a bad thing. And a lot of that is based in some of the racism and xenophobia that dates back decades and centuries in our country. And so when you're looking at how these P are framed and how they're thought of their continuation of that legacy in a lot of ways, we haven't seen anyone in these positions of power in our country, really try to fundamentally change that we had some promises from the Biden administration, that they would look to creating a more humane asylum system, but we haven't seen that mindset really change from what has been around for decades and decades.

That was Kate Morrissey , reporter for the San Diego union tribune. She was speaking with KPBS midday Edition Host Jade Hindmon.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

As hospitals fill up in the county because of COVID, emergency room delays are causing back-ups with ambulances having to wait longer to drop off patients. Meanwhile, we have more information on San Diego city employees seeking medical or religious exemptions from the covid-19 vaccine mandate. Plus, the United States has officially resumed its policy of sending asylum seekers back to Mexico as their pending cases play out.