Rural California hospital overwhelmed by Covid

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Apple Valley (United States) (AFP)

As Covid-19 tears apart southern California, small hospitals in rural towns like Apple Valley have been overwhelmed, with coronavirus patients crammed into hallways, makeshift intensive care beds and even the pediatric ward.

When AFP visited St Mary’s Hospital in the desert city of 70,000 this week, palliative care manager Kari McGuire said her team was seeing “an astronomical number of patients dying” from the novel coronavirus.

“It was definitely the darkest period of my entire career. Definitely, ”she said, biting back tears as she recalled the loss of patients, including staff and their families.

“I have personally had to watch people who I know I want to see their loved ones die. It was very difficult. ”

The populous city of Los Angeles, located just 130 kilometers away, has suffered the highest number of Covid cases and deaths in California. However, on a per capita basis, the outbreak in neighboring San Bernardino County – where Apple Valley is located – has been even worse.

While rural areas further north have been aided by their isolation, this predominantly working-class town in the Mojave Desert, where towns filled with warehouses and factories have long replaced orchards, has seen more than one in 10 people. infected.

In crowded hospital corridors, the constant buzz of sound monitors and coughing patients is regularly punctuated by Covid victims who go into cardiac or respiratory arrest.

The intensive care unit originally had 20 beds, but the hospital is currently struggling to treat 54 intensive care patients, improvising with plastic walls to create isolated “pods”.

“Where do you put 60 intensive care patients when you only have 20 planned? And then with the staff? Asked Randy Loveless, acting director of the emergency department and intensive care.

“We had to be very creative in how we handled this. But currently we are managing it. ”

However, employees work up to 18 hours of work and some patients have to wait days for a room.

“The impact this COVID surge has had on the hospital is enormous… operational strain, as well as enormous emotional strain. ”

– ‘Hard to swallow’ –

Mendy Hickey, executive director of nursing, said her team was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the extreme non-stop pressure.

“People are extremely exhausted, people are definitely angry, it’s tension all the time,” she says, with “spiritual care teams” called in to help her nurses.

Many have now received vaccines, as part of a massive statewide inoculation effort that – after a slow start – saw sights such as Disneyland and the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball stadium. converted to administer doses soon.

California Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday the flattened state hospitalization figures were “encouraging,” although he warned the figures could resume in late January.

But it is too late for many in St Mary’s, which in December saw patients die at rates “at least three to four times” higher than usual months, Hickey said.

“When COVID started, in the spring, there were times… you would take patients off the ventilator, you would see them come home. ”

“Now that’s not the change of things – most of the time now we have families coming in, we have tough conversations about patients and how they do multiple codes each day.

“The patients are so sick. So sick… every day you walk in and more and more patients die, it’s hard, ”she says.

The lingering skepticism about the virus and the protective measures among many Americans, including in rural California, adds to Hickey’s frustration.

“You hear a lot of negative comments about” this is a bogus disease. It is not real. It’s so hard to swallow, when you’re in the middle of life, ”she says.

“When your nurses collapse and cry on the unit because another patient has passed away. ”

She added, “You wish you could bring them here and see what we see. It would definitely change people’s minds. ”

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