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'Like a War Zone': Besieged California Doctors Fear Worst Is Yet to Come in COVID-19 Surge

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At the end of DeOnte Taylor’s recent shift, only one bed remained. The respiratory therapist says his hospital in Oakland was lucky that two critically ill patients didn’t arrive at the same time.

He fears the surge will topple the facility by the end of the week.

“I think it's going to be chaotic. Only severe patients will be admitted… because we can only take care of the worst.”

That’s also the reality unfolding at Kaiser Permanente's Fresno Medical Center. Nurses struggle to fit inside rooms where two beds have been shoved inside. Staff are scrambling to convert conference rooms and a cafeteria into care facilities.

“We are at the point where we are having to triage who deserves an ICU bed and who doesn’t,” said registered nurse Amy Arlund at the end of a harrowing night shift. “We have to look at the severity of each patient and evaluate the chances of survival and pick the best candidate for a bed.”


Arlund says many hospitals in Fresno are beyond capacity. Across California, 80% of the intensive care units are full, according to Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. San Diego, Los Angeles, Imperial County and the entire San Joaquin Valley are the worst hotspots, she said. But, she stressed, Northern California is not going to dodge this particular bullet this time.

“The most important limiting factor is staff,” said Coyle. “Those critical care nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists that are needed at the bedside to care and to cure.”

The entire country is now suffering a shortage of health care workers with enough training to care for COVID-19 patients. Some who have those skills are at home taking care of children because schools are closed. Others are sick themselves or nursing loved ones. The virus has killed hundreds, potentially thousands of health care workers in the U.S.

“We are mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted,” said Dinora Chinchilla, a pulmonologist specializing in critical care at a hospital in Orange County. “There's only so many words you can use to describe the extreme fatigue.”

Read the full story here.

—Lesley McClurg (@lesleywmcclurg

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