Two Chula Vista hospitals were so overwhelmed with patients Tuesday, they declared an internal disaster status, meaning they could no longer take more patients.
Both Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and Scripps Mercy Hospital had reached capacity, among a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and a staffing shortage. Sharp Chula Vista's hospital beds were at capacity and had a wait for the ER.
Scripps Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ghazala Sharieff told NBC 7 emergency room beds were full and patients were overflowing into hallways and surgery recovery rooms. They had to transfer patients to other hospitals before the Scripps stopped taking patients altogether for two hours. Despite, the status, every patient and ambulance is still screened.
“We have to screen you, make sure you don’t have a life-threatening emergency or you’re not in active labor. But if you have a minor complaint, we will ask you to go to urgent care, or your private physician or a different place to get healthcare because at that moment we have to take care of our sickest of the sickest,” said Sharieff. “We had a patient that needed to have emergent airway treatment being done right away. So he had a breathing tube put in. It came to that point, where we very worried about patient safety, so we really didn’t have a choice.”
The county had suspended all hospitals from re-directing ambulances through Jan. 27, but both hospitals had to go to the next level in procedure and declare an internal disaster.
“So, when ambulances keep coming and there’s no way to stop, that’s the risk that puts not only on the hospitals but the patients as well. When we can’t offload ambulances,” said Sharieff.
It’s not just a rise in cases of COVID-19 filling the hospitals, but staff shortages are a major factor at play.
At Scripps Mercy, Sharieff said 500 staff are out because of the virus. She said this was the first time the hospital resorted to the internal disaster status because of the pandemic.
Despite, the larger numbers at the beginning of the pandemic, the extremely transmissible variant, omicron is the difference. Also, the staff seems to be rotating from filling in for sick employees, then becoming sick themselves in a continuous cycle, Sharieff said.
“'Well if you have 500 last time, why can’t you do it this time?' That’s because we don’t have the staff this time and frankly, the community was closed down a little bit more than they are now," she said.
Sharieff expects another week or two before the hospital surges from the holidays reach their peak. She hopes that the hospitals can alter the diversion process moving forward so they don't have to declare an internal disaster.
“We should never get to that point. We just needed a couple of hours to be able to transfer patients to other hospitals, while we are creating beds and things like that,” she said.
Scripps Mercy Hospital currently has 356 COVID-19 patients. The State of California will send more personnel to help alleviate the hospitals.