Military medical team to help Riverside County hospital struggling with influx of COVID-19 patients as ICUs countywide pass 98% capacity

Local News

A team of active military doctors and nurses will come to the aid of a Riverside County hospital struggling with an influx of coronavirus patients, county officials announced Tuesday.

The team sent by FEMA includes critical care nurses, respiratory technicians, physician assistants and doctors who are being assigned to Eisenhower Health hospital in Rancho Mirage as part of a request by the state of California. They are set to arrive Thursday.

The hospital is operating at virtually 100% of its staffing capacity but only had three staffed beds available with nearly 80% of its overall bed capacity taken up as of Tuesday, said Dr. Alan Williamson, the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer.

The doctor said the hospital is nearing capacity at its intensive care units and COVID-19 units, adding that the federal support “comes at a critical time.”

The situation at the Rancho Mirage hospital mirrors trends across Riverside County, where ICU beds were at 98.2% capacity countywide as of Tuesday.

At least 536 people were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the county’s hospitals, including 136 in intensive care units—with the three-day average of hospitalizations standing at 516 Monday, compared to 368 just two weeks before.

At Riverside Community Hospital, nurses went on strike last month to demand additional staffing as cases surged and patients flooded in.

“The federal support will provide much-needed assistance to Eisenhower at a time when the entire medical system deals with the rise in coronavirus cases,” director of the county’s emergency response, Bruce Barton, said. “That assistance will make a difference for those who are being impacted by this virus that has taken so many lives.”

U.S. Navy sailors prepare to admit the first patient aboard the USNS Mercy hospital ship on March 29. (U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
A U.S. Navy medical team prepares to admit the first patient aboard the USNS Mercy hospital ship on March 29. (U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

Riverside County has reported 26,481 coronavirus cases with 553 deaths attributed to the respiratory illness.

Statewide, 6,745 people with confirmed COVID-19 cases and another 1,400 with suspected cases are hospitalized for the respiratory illness — more than 2,000 of them in intensive care units.

Amid surging infections, California’s hospitalization rate has climbed nearly 50% over the last two weeks.

FEMA has obligated $1 billion in federal support to California and delivered millions of N95 masks, gloves and surgical masks, according to the agency.

In March, a 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, docked in the Port of Los Angeles to help ease the strain on local hospitals that were bracing for a crush of patients. The ship departed in May, having only treated 77 patients as the state managed to avert a surge.

Some of its crew remained in the area after the ship’s departure to support FEMA and state authorities at medical facilities.

Federal medical teams are now assisting other hospitals and nursing homes throughout the state.

“These are crucial resources as we all work together at the federal, state and local levels of government to overcome this pandemic,” Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said in a written statement.

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