ICU staffing a big issue, but the county is managing

ICU nurses needed to travel to areas hardest hit by COVID-19, like New York City
Posted at 11:16 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 17:33:34-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — "As it stands today, we're managing," said Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine during the first Kern County Board of Supervisors of 2021. According to Constantine, as of Jan. 3, the county has 620 available beds within its 10 acute care hospitals and 190 of those are staffable as defined by the hospitals.

Constantine said as of Jan 3, the county has 25 ICU beds, but the state discounts those beds because of the high number of COVID positive patients in the hospital. The state reporting 0% availability when in fact, according to Constantine, Kern has more than 8% of beds available and 25 beds.

However, one of the big issues facing the hospitals is not a lack of beds or PPE, but staff.

"It's important to recognize that our hospitals are busy. They are impacted," Constantine said. "The only other time that we have to compare this to is what happened in July and this, as the hospital CEOs will tell you, is more of an impact now than it was in July."

Supervisor Mike Maggard said that the county is aware of the staffing issues at hospitals and looking into more options to be able to continue to supply those staff.

Constantine pointed out that during this time, hospital staff are struggling as well and in high demand nationwide.

"We are fighting against other counties and other states," said Constantine. "We have repetitively increased the amount of money that we're willing to pay for some of those ICU nurses."

Kern County is days away from vaccinating frontline workers in what officials are calling one of their biggest endeavors ever. Constantine said local efforts to fight COVID-19 are progressing and the county is actually in a better position compared to other counties in the San Joaquin Valley region.

"In the Central Valley we operate generally in the same pattern, many other counties in that region are not as well off as we are. I would suggest because of some of our planning and advance and forethought and response from the public, we find ourselves in a better position than they do."

Constantine said that the state is taking action regarding elective surgeries and would establish an interfacility transfer facility. He said these actions are being taken mainly in response to other regions, especially Los Angeles.

According to Constantine, hospitals here locally are already ahead of these new orders, deciding to cancel elective surgeries when needed. He pointed out that elective surgeries are not just minor surgeries and in fact, could be an answer to the shortage in staff.

"This isn't some inconsequential surgery that's needed. People are in pain, they're struggling, and they're needed," Constantine said. "And it keeps the hospitals economically viable, it keeps them fully staffed which is what we need."