COVID-19 statistics continue to mount, with the Kern County Public Health Department on Friday reporting 16 COVID-19 resident deaths for a total of 539 and 1,941 new resident cases for a total 76,673. A total of 21,327 county residents have recovered in all.
Closer to home, Ridgecrest has had 1,145 total cases while Inyokern has had 41 total cases, according to the KCPHD interactive map.
The Ridgecrest Regional Hospital reported another 42 cases Friday.
Ridgecrest Hospital CEO Jim Suver weighed in about the local COVID-19 response at a Rotary Club of China Lake Zoom meeting Wednesday.
The upshot is this: the pandemic is taxing healthcare in a number of ways, and the challenge is almost certainly escalating as COVID-19 admissions continue at a high rate.
RRH COVID-positive admissions reached a peak with 44 in December 2020, attributed most likely to a post-Thanksgiving surge. January is on track to be equally high, according to Suver, with 6 patients admitted from Jan. 1 through Jan. 4, 2021.
July 2020 saw 12 COVID-positive admissions. Beginning in March 2020, all other months ranged between zero and 6 admissions. The first 2 COVID-positive patients were admitted to RRH in June 2020.
Half of RRH's inpatients over the past two months have had COVID-19 and the hospital has been using around three to four surge beds at any given time.
Non-COVID patients are kept in separate areas from COVID patients "to the degree that we can," Suver said.
"When we're talking about ICUs there may be a mix, depending on who needs to be in there. But because they are in separate rooms and our nurses are practicing safety precautions I don't consider that a risk."
RRH has had monoclonal antibodies available since December, with a process in place for dispensing to outpatients according to Quality Administrator Brenda Diel who also joined in the Zoom meeting.
COVID-19 testing also peaked in December 2020 with 2524 tests administered by RRH. Between Jan. 1 and 4, 2021 an additional 203 tests were administered by RRH.
The bulk of testing is taking place through Urgent Care, and RRH has doubled staff in that department to accommodate this.
The financial impacts of the pandemic have been significant. RRH is expected to lose around $6 million in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to Suver. There is a potential to recoup some or all of the funds through federal stimulus money, but Suver noted it is not certain and the rules are "ever-changing."
Pandemic impacts are hitting the hospital on top of unreimbursed losses resulting from the July 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes, Suver said.
COVID-19 is hitting the hospital with a sort of financial double-whammy according to Suver.
"The hospital has lost a lot of money on COVID when we had to increase expenses by providing testing, hiring more staff, but at the same time our volume for other services went way down because people got scared of having healthcare," he said.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is people potentially neglecting other health conditions.
RRH's clinic volume dropped as much as 70 percent during the spring 2020 COVID-19 surge according to Suver.
"That didn't mean that 70 percent of our patients got well and they didn't need to see their doctors," he added, but rather that people were staying away from the hospital out of fear of COVID-19.
Reports of Kern County hospitals experiencing ICU bed shortages and long wait times has scared people, "particularly older people," he added.
"We have to make sure that people are taking care of the other healthcare needs or we are going to have other mortalities not necessarily COVID-related."
Suver said that so-called "elective" surgeries are frequently urgent.
He also addressed the "bed-crunch."
RRH has opened surge beds, he said, but the main limitation is qualified staffing.
"We have to have licensed staff. Our people are working a lot of overtime, we have brought in traveling nurses which are in short supply as well," he said.
In addition, Kern County has given guidance that triaged patients can be kept in the waiting room or ED if the hospital is impacted.
Care can be provided on an ambulance gurney if necessary.
In addition, Kern County now allows emergency medical services to decline to transport people if they determine it is not medically necessary.
On the plus side, Suver said, months of experience with the virus is leading to better treatment.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the healthcare system has become better at treating covid patients and "has learned a lot."