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Federal medical team arrives at Eisenhower Health as hospital nears staff capacity

A federal team of active military medical personnel has been called in to support Eisenhower Health with its influx of coronavirus patients.

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"The hospital is nearing capacity in our ICU and on our Covid-19 units," says Dr. Alan Williamson, the Chief Medical Officer of Eisenhower Health. "Currently, we only have three more 'staffed' beds available in the ICU. Additionally, we are approaching 80 percent of bed capacity within the hospital, but are at virtually 100 percent of our staffing capacity. We are grateful for the support from FEMA and its Air Force Medical response team. It comes at a critical time."

The team of doctors, physician assistants, critical care nurses and respiratory technicians are part of California's request for federal support to medical facilities throughout the state.

"The federal support will provide much-needed assistance to Eisenhower at a time when the entire medical system deals with the rise in coronavirus cases," said Bruce Barton, director of the County of Riverside Emergency Management Department. "That assistance will make a difference for those who are being impacted by this virus that has taken so many lives."

According to recent data released by Eisenhower Health, as of July 13, the hospital is treating 76 coronavirus patients. On Tuesday, however, the county reported an increase of 25 more patients hospitalized for coronavirus, so the number at Eisenhower may increase.

Hospitalization trends across Riverside County as of July 13. (Courtesy of Emergency Management Department)

Last week, a post by a doctor at Eisenhower described the coronavirus situation at the hospital as a "hell hole." Dr. Williamson came on News Channel 3 and refuted those claims but did say he was seeing how the staff was fatigued from all the work.

"We are concerned about the duration of this event and are we going to start seeing people really just getting worn out and broken down, and potentially getting sick because they are run down," Williamson told Peter Daut on July 8.

At this time, there is no word on whether any other local hospitals will also be receiving a federal medical team.

Dr. Randall McCafferty, medical director of emergency operations for the Desert Care network, told News Channel 3 on July 9 that Desert Regional in Palm Springs and JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio are seeing its highest number of patients in the past four months.

"This is causing a profound challenge to our healthcare systems. This is not unprecedented that we have challenges periodically, It's the sustainment of this COVID pandemic that has created additional stress," Dr. McCafferty said.

Medical workers at our valley hospitals spoke about the high level of stress they have been under due to the recent surge in hospitalizations.

“There are times when I just can’t sleep. All I’m thinking is did I miss this, did I forget that, did I prepare this person...that never stops,” Wendy Edwards, clinical nursing director at Eisenhower, told News Channel 3's Madison Weil back on July 6.

This isn't the first time the Coachella Valley has received assistance from the federal government during the pandemic. Back in late March, the California National Guard help set-up a federal medical station at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio.

FMS in Indio (March 2020)

The FMS has not been used in that time. The last update provided by the county was during the June 30 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton said the county kept the equipment in place at the fairgrounds but that they don't have wrap-around services, like heating, generators, and air conditioning. Barton said this can be obtained pretty quickly, but the real problem was that the state provides "very-low level care," not suitable for critical patients.

"They do not address the very sick. They are not even really capable of med surge level patients," Barton said. "These are very low-level patients that maybe could be discharged from the hospital and stay there for a couple of days. "

Barton added that any staffing the county tried to obtain for the FMS would put them in direct competition with local hospitals also in need of staff.

Barton said the county believes the focus on what the county is going to support is hospitals to do their internal surge.

As of July 14, there are currently 536 patients hospitalized in Riverside County, including 136 patients in the ICU. There are 26,481 positive cases and the county now has a positivity rate of 20%.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing coverage.

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Jesus Reyes

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