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Adequate ICU staff emerging as concern in San Joaquin County
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As the number of ICU admissions at hospitals in San Joaquin County continues to rise, a new issue is presenting itself for those trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will there be enough staff to care for the surge in patients?

With a sharp increase in the number of people requiring hospitalization climbing since mid-June, county officials are currently working to keep up with the rising demand for medical services that is stressing the system in the way that experts feared it would back in March when the pandemic first arrived.

As of Monday, San Joaquin County was operating at 121 percent of capacity for its licensed ICU beds – meaning that hospitals are converting other wings of the hospital to provide the level of care needed for an ICU patient.

Over the last several days, roughly 50 percent of those that are requiring ICU-level care at San Joaquin County hospitals were COVID-positive patients.

Because patients needing that level of care require a much more intensive staffing ratio that regular patients and may require the need of a respiratory technician if the patient is placed on artificial ventilation, the finite number of healthcare workers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley has become an issue that officials are trying to figure out.

Currently the county is working with the Emergency Medical Services Authority in Sacramento to continue to expand its allocation of hospital beds to meet the rising demand, and there has been some progress made – County EMS Director Dan Burch announced last week that the first round of approves resources will go to Lodi Memorial Hospital in the North County by the end of the week to expand its currently ICU capacity nearly threefold.

Each of the seven hospitals in the county currently has surge plans in place to be able to meet the rising demand, and according to Tiffany Heyer at the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services, additional plans including creating or converting other facilities to handle a sharp influx of patients are also in place.

“This is something that the hospitals have been very good about preparing for over the last several years in case we ever got to this point,” Heyer said. “There are plans in place for a number of different scenarios, and we are working through those right now.”

While the number of ICU admissions has jumped nearly 30 percent in the last 10 days and exceeded the number of licensed beds, the county is still only using 62 percent of its overall licensed bed capacity – a number that has been slowly declining over the last two weeks as hospitals are preparing to make room for the possibility of new patients.

While some of that overall capacity includes pediatric and neonatal intensive care beds that cannot be used for an adult patient – and the number of open beds varies by hospital – the availability of that space, especially for ICU patients, is depending on the level of available staffing throughout the county.

Earlier this week neighboring Stanislaus County announced that it was creating a roster of medical volunteers to staff a potential overflow hospital – the old Stanislaus County Hospital on Scenic Drive – if the number of overall licensed beds were to be eclipsed.

A number of additional potential overflow capacity sites exist throughout Northern California including the unused Sleep Train Arena in Northern Sacramento that is currently controlled by the California Department of Public Health and has room for roughly 400 patients. It was taken out of service at the end of May when the expected demand on resources didn’t requires its utilization – a decision that was made weeks before the number of cases started to increase.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.