Healthcare worker shortage, COVID-19 threaten staffed capacity
There are just three available staffed intensive-care-unit beds countywide, and surge beds are beginning to be utilized, as of Thursday, as factors converge on an already stretched-thin healthcare staff.
According to Santa Barbara County Public Health data, there are 67 staffed ICU beds in use of the 70 available in the county. And six surge beds are in use.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, chair of the infectious disease division at Cottage Health, told the News-Press that surge beds are not necessarily in hallways or in conference rooms. At Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, they are normal beds the hospital doesn’t have the capacity to serve to usual standards.
There are 14 COVID-19 patients in intensive care. The other patients have non-pandemic acute care needs.
“Hospitalizations do generally bulge in the winter but not with the same backdrop of staffing scarcity,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
She said more hospital staff have had to isolate or quarantine after a positive COVID-19 case or contact than usual lately. But she heard Thursday that staffing for the day was stable.
“The impact on the hospitals has really intensified this week. We, in the hospital, are feeling the strains in the pressure for acute care needs and the staffing shortage,” she said.
Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital paused non-urgent and non-emergent surgeries two weeks ago to concentrate staffing on areas of higher need. This week, Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital chose to do the same.
“We have continued to work on modifications, contingency plans, pivoting from one service area to another, allowing shift changes from one area to another,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
Part of the increase in patients comes from other pressure in adjacent healthcare positions, such as hospice care and skilled nursing. She said staffing has been hitting those facilities and slowing discharges.
She said she is “cautiously optimistic” looking ahead. The portion of COVID-19 patients needing intensive treatment has decreased to the overall number of admitted COVID-19 patients. In past surges, more were critically ill, she said.
It takes one to two weeks for hospitalizations to peak after cases reach highs in the community, Dr. Fitzgibbons said. But she hopes this week is a turning point for cases, seeing data in other communities with a rapid fall in case rates.