Scripps Health staff squeezed amid rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations

SAN DIEGO – Scripps Health has seen a approximately 162% increase in COVID-19 patients since Christmas Eve, according to CEO Chris Van Gorder. But with situations surging in the community, there’s nevertheless a broader concern in its hospitals.

Van Gorder said hospital staff at the San Diego-based nonprofit system are getting sick just as fast as the rest of the community, a fact that’s impacting the system’s ability to care for patients.

“We had 43 employees with COVID in October, 49 in November and 460 in December,” he said. “(We’ve had) 370 employees testing positive for COVID since Dec. 27.”

And the CEO says it’s causing a domino effect within Scripps hospitals. All the resources he would typically call to get more help also are seeing staff out sick or otherwise quarantined from COVID.

A year ago, they had 500 people in the hospital with COVID-19. As of Tuesday, there are about 210, but the system’s staff is down nearly 15%, equating to about 700 people out sick.

“This morning, we had five medical-surgical beds obtainable in the complete system,” Van Gorder said. “Eight ICU beds and I have 19 patients awaiting beds just in Chula Vista alone, and probably twice that many at Mercy and at La Jolla waiting for beds.”

Scripps La Jolla was forced to cancel all in-patient surgeries Tuesday because they essentially didn’t have the beds or staff to care for them afterward. It’s one of the reasons why hospitals are sounding the alarm about people who are using emergency rooms to get tested for the virus.

On Monday, Rady Children’s Hospital issued notice to the public not to show up at their emergency room for a COVID-19 test or already with mild virus symptoms.

“It’s tying up resources and making it difficult for patients to access health care that really need the health care,” Van Gorder said.

The staff shortages are already putting a strain on basic supply.

“We are waiting on an oxygen delivery and we were told that the driver tested positive for COVID so they didn’t have the drivers to bring the oxygen,” the system’s CEO said, “so we have a meaningful impact that is hitting us right now.”

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