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ICU beds near capacity, Riverside County prepares to move into surge plan

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Riverside County is one step closer to moving into its surge plan as Coronavirus cases increase. Several hospitals throughout Riverside County have already reached capacity, while others reached over 90 percent capacity.

"Our hospitalizations and our ICU's have gone up. Our ICU beds in the county-- we’ve been using that number 385-- in the county we’re at 380," Riverside County Department of Public Health spokesperson, Jose Arballo said.

The new numbers have prompted health officials to revisit surge plans, many of which were formed at the beginning of the pandemic.

"Now it might be a situation where we start implementing those plans that we put in place 2-3 months ago," Arballo said.

Despite many beds being taken, Arballo said what is being used now consists of a combination of illnesses.

"The important thing we’re seeing in the context of COVID, are that only 28 percent of our ICU beds are with COVID-confirmed patients. This is a situation where the ICU beds-- the vast majority of them are non-COVID cases," said Arballo.

Arballo said the county is looking into what could have caused a large percentage of non-COVID patients. He said it could be that several people held off on calling 911 or going to the emergency earlier in the pandemic, as many feared being exposed.

With Coronavirus cases still increasing, hospitals must be ready for anything.

On Monday, Eisenhower Health and Desert Care Network were both near capacity. They prepared to tap into surge plans, which included repurposing beds and facilities for critical care.

"For over a month now we seen our census continue to rise. Today again we’re at an all-new high. We are at 58 in-patients. To give you context about a month ago at this time last month we were hovering around 20, so we’ve had a significant increase and we’ve seen it as we track back to the phase 2 reopening, Mother’s Day, some of the holidays we’ve had-- that 14 day lag we’ve seen the census continue to go up since then," Desert Regional Medical Center Chief Operating Officer, Michael Ditoro said.

Ditoro said out of their 31 licensed ICU beds, a total of 16 were taken up by Coronavirus patients as of Monday.

"I think the important thing to understand is while we’re licensed for 31 ICU beds, we have surge plans that allow us to go beyond that and this isn’t knew with COVID," Ditoro said.

Ditoro said despite nearing capacity, there is no issue with beds that could be repurposed for critical care.

Eisenhower Health also saw a steady increase in patients.

"As of today we’re doing okay in terms of ICU beds. We’re still able to handle the volume that we’re seeing within the normal constraints of our regular ICU capacity. We do have surge plans at several levels that do potentially involve using other spaces," Eisenhower Health Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alan Williamson said.

Eisenhower Health officials had a surge plan meeting on Monday to ensure equipment and staffing are in place.

Williamson said despite being able to handle more cases, he is concerned about the strain on medical staff.

"Staff are also community members so some of them may become exposed or get ill outside of the hospital, and that takes them outside of our staffing pool. Others are just getting tired and worn out, so asking them to do extra shifts is really difficult when they’ve already been putting such a concerted effort for so long a period of time in in order to care for the patients," Dr. Williamson said.

The county also said the Federal Medical Station that the National Guard set up at the start of the pandemic at the Indio Fairgrounds, could still be used as a back-up facility if needed.

"I believe there’s still equipment level, just not the staffing level that there were before," Arballo said.

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Shelby Nelson

Shelby Nelson is a News Reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. She joined our team in September 2019 after living in San Francisco for 6 years. Learn more about Shelby here.

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