Hospital Staff Overwhelmed as Southern California ICU Capacity at 0%

“We are not even a few weeks into this surge and we are already at capacity, already at that breaking point,” one nurse said

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Hospitals have been pushed to the brink, forced to deal with climbing COVID-19 cases and to locate overflow space to meet the demand. Southern California is one of the hardest-hit areas, with a staggering 0% ICU capacity for the region.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom attempted to ease concerns over the alarming spike and said the number doesn’t necessarily mean intensive care units are maxed out and can no longer take patients.

But the toll is affecting California's staffing. Newsom last week adjusted the nurse to patient staffing ratio from 1:2 to 1:3 to accommodate the current emergency.

California state officials has adjusted the nurse to patient ratio to 1:3 to accommodate the current emergency brought upon by the pandemic.

But where does ICU capacity stand in a region like San Diego? NBC 7 reached out to local hospitals to get a better picture of the situation and learned that they, like many other medical centers in the state, are reaching their limits.

As of Monday evening:

  • Palomar Health said the number fluctuates but that it has reached its ICU capacity, meaning that some patients are waiting in the Emergency Department for a bed.
  • Scripps said it is sitting at 82% capacity, adding that it is dealing with higher patient volumes and has converted some beds to address the need.
  • Sharp said it has been near 90% for weeks and has been trying to keep from running out of beds for critical patients. However, officials there said that limited capacity isn’t out of the ordinary and is typical during flu season. However, the prolonged length of time at capacity is what’s straining its system.

Michael Kennedy, a nurse who works at UCSD and is a representative with the California Nurses Association, says he’s seeing the surge and it’s only the beginning.

“We are not even a few weeks into this surge and we are already at capacity, already at that breaking point,” Kennedy said.

The state says of the total new cases reported daily, 12% of those will end up hospitalized. California's 7-day average on Monday was 43,901 cases per day compared to about a month ago -- just before the Thanksgiving weekend -- when daily cases were in the low 10,000s.

Kennedy added that nurses feel burned out and that he's worried about the future, with hospitals already overextended. He said he hopes people will take the time to reflect if gathering for the Christmas holiday is worth it.

“I'm just asking people to think about us -- think about nurses, patients, doctors, health care workers -- when you're planning your holiday plans,” Kennedy said. “Just this week, just think about the utter stress we're under.”

Every Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services releases the reported 7-day average availability of hospital beds and ICU beds of each hospital in the country.

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