Fresno hospitals delay some surgeries again, due to COVID patients and infected staff

SILVIA FLORES/sflores@fresnobee.com
·4 min read

Hospitals in the central San Joaquin Valley are feeling the crush of overwhelmed emergency rooms so much so some of them have begun to stave off non-emergency surgeries while they deal with COVID-19’s omicron variant.

On top of the record-breaking number of COVID-19 patients entering hospitals, many staffers are out because they have also contracted the highly infectious omicron variant, hospital officials have said.

Fresno County had 502 patients confirmed to have COVID-19 in hospital beds on Thursday, and another suspected 21, according to the latest numbers. And hospitals are seeing hundreds of health care workers at each location test positive.

Because of the burden, Saint Agnes will begin postponing elective surgeries on Monday, according to Kelley Sanchez, communications director at the hospital. Freeing up those beds and rooms will allow the medical staff to make space for COVID-19 patients who need the most attention.

“We are, where we can, converting other areas for ICU (intensive care unit) patients,” she said.

Elective surgeries are those not considered an emergency that can be delayed. Examples could be bariatric surgery, knee replacement or others that can wait as opposed to those for cancer or a heart condition, health officials say.

Saint Agnes had 257 medical workers out Thursday, Sanchez said, which included 232 who tested positive for COVID-19 and others awaiting results. That total number grew from 174 out the previous day.

Community Regional Medical Center, which includes four hospitals, said 737 employees have tested positive.

Valley Children’s hospital had almost 130 medical workers out on Wednesday because they were infected, according to Zara Arboleda, the spokesperson for the hospital.

For the past two weeks, doctors at Valley Children’s have been assessing what surgeries can be rescheduled so that more staffers can focus on kids who are critically ill, have surgeries that can’t be delayed or need immediate medical attention, she said. “It’s so dependent from kid to kid,” she said. “Doctors are assessing every single surgery.”

The Centers for Disease Control has released new guidelines, because of the surge of the variant, that allow doctors who are COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic to continue to work in hospitals. There are certain guidelines, including masking.

Hospital staffers and educators have taken to Twitter themselves to try to make residents understand how difficult of a time they are facing.

The Twitter account for the UCSF Fresno Emergency Medicine residency program relayed the dire situation in area hospitals, saying nurses are having to be assigned to more patients than is usually considered safe.

“We are using every available space in the hospital for patient care, including hallways, meeting rooms, lecture halls, tents in the parking lot,” the account tweeted.

The account said San Joaquin Valley residents can help by getting vaccines and wearing masks, as well as driving safely and doing whatever they can to stay out of an emergency room unless necessary.

“We are doing everything in our power to provide the best possible care for our patients and our community, and to creatively solve innumerable daily challenges,” the account tweeted. “We need your help and your patience during these times of crisis.”

UCSF Fresno Program Director Fred Wu tweeted that hospitals face a major crisis, warning residents that the stressed health care system affects people who face traumatic or other health crises.

“Wear a seatbelt. Don’t get shot/stabbed. Get vaccinated. Eat healthy. Exercise. Be kind to one another,” the tweet said.

About 70% of the patients admitted to Community Regional Medical Center are not vaccinated, Wu noted.

This isn’t the first time hospitals have been overflowing with COVID-19 patients, but officials have noted many more employees seem to be affected by the omicron variant. Several hospitals delayed elective surgeries in September, when the delta variant was also filling up hospital beds.

Use this online tool to find a place to get a vaccine: covid19.ca.gov.

This story was updated with new numbers.

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