Hospitals Filling Up, Nurses Stretched Thin as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise

Bed capacities are low in the state and in Southern California.

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Hospitals around Southern California are filling up. The amount of nurses and doctors are stretched thin.

"Our staff is doing an amazing job," said Dr. Larry Kidd, the chief clinical officer at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Santa Clarita. "They are working very long hours. They are working extra days."

Kidd says some severe COVID-19 cases require around-the-clock care.

"We can have patients that have preexisting conditions, their care is more complex, and it could be up to several weeks they might be here," he said.

Kim Tobin reports for the NBC4 News on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Through the challenges workers in the COVID unit will have an added layer of protection this week.

Knowing there is a vaccine -- that is the light at the end of the tunnel, said Kathy Brady, who has been an ICU nurse for 30 years and will be the first to get the Pfizer Vaccine when it's delivered to Henry Mayo.

"We are looking at an allocation of about 1,400 doses to begin with, said Sarah Stoddard, a nurse in clinical informatics at Henry Mayo.

Stoddard is organizing the assembly line on their campus, where they will vaccinate their staff over five days.

Here's when to go to the ER and when to stay home. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

"We have been waiting a long time," she said. "Everyone is on pins and needles waiting to get this… so we are super excited to start vaccinating on Thursday."

It can't come soon enough for many front-line workers as more COVID patients keep flooding ICUs.

"After all we've seen and all the devastation that families have experienced, this is the next step forward," Brady said. "We are all looking forward to getting the vaccine, so I welcome it."

Remaining intensive care capacity throughout California is now down to under 6%.

In Southern California, it's 1.7% and many hospitals have already begun implementing surge plans.

The state is loosening the patient-to-nurse ratio, and seeking to bring in additional staffing support.

In the days ahead, hospitals anticipate having to triage and ration who can receive intensive care.

Nurses are working multiple shifts, 12-to-18 hours, said infectious disease Dr. Kimberly Shriner who is on the COVID task force at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

Shriner sees arriving vaccines offering hope, but not in time for this surge.

"We're in the tunnel, perhaps the most intense moment," said Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom on Tuesday announced measures to try to stretch the skilled healthcare workforce, seeking to bring in more personnel from out of state and from the military.

As other states have had to do, Newsom confirmed California has ordered portable refrigeration trailers if needed as temporary morgues.

"Two weeks from we now are concerned about what our ability to provide care will be," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health secretary.

"We're not at our maximum capacity of ventilators right now, but our ICU beds are filling up rapidly, so we are going to have to start triaging, and that is a decision no healthcare worker ever wants to have to make," said Shriner, who has but one ask.

"Please, just celebrate Christmas in June or July when we'll really have something to celebrate. Stay home. Don't mingle with your family. Don't get infected with this because the hospitals are not going to be able to take care of you. And we're barely able to take care of the ones we have right now."

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