Healthcare workers and executives from three state and local healthcare systems overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic gathered via Zoom on Tuesday to issue a plea to the public: “We need your help.”
With the holidays getting underway, representatives of Sutter Health, Diginity Health and Kaiser Permanente urged everyone to avoid travel and gathering and just stay home.
“Right now we are struggling,” said Dr. Vanessa Walker of Sutter Health. “We are seeing unprecedented numbers of patients with very severe illnesses…. requiring nurses and physicians that don’t normally provide care for these very critically ill patients to really stretch to the tops of their license and try to deliver the best care that they can.
“We are tired,” she said. “We’re struggling every day to deal with the same fatigue you have, not being able to go out and enjoy the things we used to be able to do…. We’re asking you to please do your part and avoid gathering indoors, avoid sharing your air, take it outside…. be creative in order to share these holidays.
“If we do our part now, there will be more of us available and alive to share the holidays with next year,” said Walker.
The surge in COVID cases battering healthcare systems in California right now “is the Thanksgiving Day celebration effect,” said Dr. Steven Parodi associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group.
“If you look at the timing, and when we started seeing the increased surge, it is related to the travel, it is related to the gathering and we understand why people have done it,” said Parodi.
“But we are making a clarion and desperate call to Californians to not repeat what happened at Thanksgiving. Our hospital systems cannot afford to see another increase like we saw with Thanksgiving.”
Locally the increase in cases — and subsequent impact on Sutter Davis and Woodland Memorial hospitals — has been exponential in the last four weeks.
COVID cases in the city of Davis have nearly doubled since Thanksgiving week — from 528 on Nov. 24 to 1,035 on Monday and by 74 percent in the city of Winters, from 179 cases to 312 during that four-week period.
Woodland and West Sacramento have seen their cases increase by about 56 percent since Nov. 24.
And both local hospitals have hit their capacity in terms of adult hospital and ICU beds in recent weeks. On Tuesday, 31 COVID patients were hospitalized here.
“Our job in normal times is to keep you healthy, provide preventative care and care for you when the worst happens,” said Greg Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente.
“But as the hospital bed count continues to dwindle, we simply will not be able to keep up if the COVID surge continues to increase.”
Dr. Thomas McGinn, assistant executive vice president at Dignity Health (of which Woodland Memorial is part), likened the situation to that of New York back in the spring.
“I was in New York working at a health system during the early phase of this pandemic,” said McGinn.
“I saw patients firsthand suffering. I saw the families suffering. I saw the healthcare teams exhausted, working around the clock.
“And we all know the simple things that this is going to take to help stop this spread,” he added. “We know it’s about wearing a mask. We know it’s about social distancing. We know it’s about meeting… outside if you must.”
“We have a simple prescription,” he said: “Do not share the air.”
Their pleas — via a zoom press conference on Tuesday — came amid reports of busy airports as people embark on holiday travel against the advice of health officials who fear a surge on top of a surge and say healthcare systems will simply not be able to handle it.
“What we’re stressing here is our nurses, our physicians, our environmental services staff, all of our staff, are maxed, tired. Many are exhausted, frankly,” said Adams. “And our concern about what we face going forward is the Thanksgiving surge, we have Christmas this week, we have New Year’s to follow, and if we don’t follow … the guidelines, the concern is that the virus will be compounded over those holidays.”
The biggest issue for hospitals is staffing, particularly having enough nurses and respiratory therapists to treat the influx of COVID patients, McGinn said.
“We’re actually managing on the ventilators and PPE and space for the most part. What we’ve really run into is the staff issues and exhaustion of our staff.”
One of those workers, Cecilia Fleming, a nurse manager with Kaiser Permanente, said since the start of the pandemic, “the lives of frontline healthcare workers have been forever transformed.
“As healthcare workers, we understand that we should always be that last line of defense,” she said.
But it’s Californians as a whole, said Fleming, who “are the first line of defense against COVID-19.
“This is why we need each and every Californian to do their part.”