EL CENTRO — Diversion of local ambulances transporting COVID-19 patients to medical facilities elsewhere in the region had ended as of Wednesday, and the county’s emergency medical services manager reported that additional help in caring for those patients is on the way.
“We are off divert as of 10 o’clock last night,” El Centro Regional Medical Center CEO Dr. Adolphe Edward announced on Facebook Wednesday morning.
Over a 24-hour period between Monday and Tuesday, there was a 27 percent increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients between ECRMC and Pioneers Memorial Hospital, county EMS Manager Chris Herring said at a county press briefing Wednesday.
As a result of the surge, which added 14 COVID patients to the 50 it already had, ECRMC announced it was going on divert with regard to ambulances transporting patients ill with the coronavirus.
Herring said his agency reached out to the California Medical Services Authority and requested an ambulance strike team to assist with patient transfers. He said county EMS also reached out to the state for access to its All Access Transfer Center, which provides a single point of contact for identifying where facilities are available to accept COVID-positive patients.
In order to relieve the stress on local resources for COVID, about 40 patients had been transferred from both ECRMC and PMH to regional healthcare facilities across Southern California, Herring said.
Herring described patient diversion as a “fairly routine” practice. “It doesn’t give the hospital the ability to turn away any patients that show up at their facility,” he said. “It’s just a way to best manage the distribution of patients within our healthcare system.”
For his part, ECRMC’s Edward indicated the decision to divert patients temporarily was the right one. “We were glad we actually took the steps that we took so that we can start to better manage all of our patients,” he said.
Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District CEO Larry Lewis noted that while the surge in hospitalized COVID-19 patients caused reasonable concern within the community with regard to available space and hospital accessibility, he stressed that at no point would the hospital have refused care.
“If a COVID-positive patient arrives, they are taken to the appropriate room in the ER, or where their condition dictates,” he said. “There are also two outside emergency tents with air conditioning, as a primary staging area for possible COVID patients.”
The biggest problem local hospitals are experiencing at this point in handling COVID-19 surges is not space and equipment, but rather sufficient numbers of nurses and respiratory therapists to treat those patients.
Herring said county EMS has been working with both ECRMC and PMH on that score. He said he was expecting the arrival beginning Wednesday of a federal team of critical care nurses, medical-surgical nurses and respiratory therapists. They will be augmenting local hospital staffing for at least two weeks.
In addition, the county is working with state and federal authorities to establish a Federal Medical Station in the Imperial Valley College gym.
Herring said the 80-bed facility would be reserved for “low acuity” patients or those closer to recovery. Consequently, it would be more similar to a skilled nursing facility than to a hospital. “So, generally, these are patients who are already ready for hospital discharge. They may need some physical therapy or some other kind of (care),” he explained.
The facility will accept transfers from hospitals only. It will not be available for walk-in patients, he said.
As of Wednesday evening, there had been 985 positive tests for COVID-19 in Imperial County since the pandemic began. Of those, 532 were considered active. Another death was also confirmed Wednesday, bringing the local total to 19.