Coronavirus continues to infect more and more people. Riverside County has not only seen an increase in cases in recent days, but also an increase in hospitalizations and hospital bed-use.
As of Monday, Intensive Care Unit bed utilization in Riverside County reached 96 percent. It dropped to 90 percent on Tuesday.
Medical experts at both Eisenhower Health and Desert Care Network told News Channel 3 that the demand to treat COVID-infected patients has began to weigh on medical staff.
"Being sure that we acknowledge the fact that our own 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," Eisenhower Health Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alan Williamson said.
Some teams of staff and nurses have been designated for COVID-related procedures.
"My team strictly does the testing, spreads their hours out upon the 7 days between the registration and the nursing staff," Eisenhower Health Registered Nurse, April Lopez said.
Many, including Lopez, have switched their regular shifts to meet the demands to conduct Coronavirus testing. That includes working odd hours, weekend shifts, and some holidays from an air conditioned tent.
"Four months ago when COVID came into the Coachella Valley I was asked to simply, can we do some testing, can we get a group of people together who are willing to do this testing? I said yes. If you fast forward now, we are here full time. We’ve all come from 6 and 7 different departments within the organization and now created our own team here to work out here day after day, not in our offices, not with our coworkers," Lopez said.
Before conducting tests, Lopez was managing the internal medicine residency program while also working toward getting a Master's degree to become a nurse practitioner. She said the program would be ending in July, but it was put on hold because of Coronavirus.
Some surge plans have been put to use in Riverside County as hospitals reach ICU bed capacity. Eisenhower Health and Desert Care Network have been preparing in the event that their beds also fill up, and if they need to repurpose rooms and equipment. That also means adding on more staff. For those that have been working through the pandemic, there have been challenges.
"On a personal level it affects my family. I have 3 kids at home-- 17, 15 and 9. They see me coming home tired, I’ve been outside and the mental stress that comes with working in the COVID environment," Lopez said.
With no end in the near future, it's likely more workers will need to transition to assist in critical care.
"The rigor with which you have to care for those patients- with putting on the appropriate PPE and taking it off, it can be hot and it’s uncomfortable. Yeah, the staff is getting tired from it. We have plans if we need to and we've already starting executing to bring in additional workforce that can help in the critical care areas," Desert Regional Medical Center Chief Operating Officer, Michael Ditoro said.
"This has already gone on for 3 months and it’s likely to continue for several more months beyond now and so it’s hard for the staff to keep up that level of intensity for that long," Eisenhower Health Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Alan Williamson said.
Meanwhile, nurses and staff are taking precautions.
"We wear full protective equipment which is scrubs that we change into every morning, not scrubs that we take home and wear at home-- gowns, plugs, face shields and an N-95 mask for each patient," Lopez said.