Health Care Workers Worry About Ability to Handle Surge

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This holiday will be unlike any other in recent history.

With the coronavirus pandemic, many families are in a tough spot, craving human, familial contact yet facing a potentially lethal virus.

Allan Hansen, a physician and medical director at the emergency department of Palomar Medical Center Escondido, said he understands that holidays are a time for family.

“I think we all want to get together with our families this time of year,” Hansen told NBC 7 on Wednesday. “It’s been a very challenging year, and we’re feeling the distance from our family members, but what we’re seeing in San Diego County --and kind of across the country -- is an increasing number of patients who are getting admitted to hospitals and stressing the hospital systems across the country and county."

Hansen said the thought of potential patients is on the mind of his colleagues.

"We need to do whatever we can to minimize further coronavirus infections, and so the thought of people gathering outside of their family definitely brings a concern to health care workers who are taking care of everybody,” Hansen said.

Hospital beds are filling up and ICU availabilities are low. Hansen was able to give NBC 7 an idea of what’s unfolding at Palomar Escondido from his perspective.

“What we’re seeing is definitely a steady increase in the number of patients who are admitted to the hospital with coronavirus,” Hansen said. “Our overall volumes in both emergency departments are relatively stable, so we’re not seeing a big surge of overall patients, but we’re definitely seeing a pretty significant increase in patients that are presenting with coronavirus infection and requiring admission to the hospital and ICU.”

Hansen broke down the significance of that detail: why the increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients complicates the scenario, alluding to the domino effect it can have on a department that doesn’t have that many beds to begin with.

“What we’re sort of learning, as we become increasingly sort of versed at taking care of coronavirus patients, is those who end up in the ICU frequently are on a ventilator for a longer period of time than with other conditions,” Hansen said. “So the resource demand is probably higher than we experience with others -- even the flu pandemic. The ICU care requires specialized nursing care, equipment and rooms, and that’s just a limited resource that’s hard to expand with a drop of a hat.”

Those demands end up spilling into other areas that would not otherwise grapple with COVID-19 patients. Despite the surge they’re facing, Hansen said people who need emergency care should seek it. What’s currently happening at hospitals should not necessarily suggest other types of critical care can't be addressed.

“Keep in mind: We have to all do our part to decrease further infections,” Hansen said. “The hospital is open. We have the capacity to take care of folks. If you have the need for emergency medical care, whether it’s for coronavirus infection or otherwise, we’re here, we’re ready. We’re here to take care of the community, and we want to keep that resource available for anybody who needs acute care and do our part to minimize spread in the community by following all these recommendations.”

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