Bishop's Hospital Begins to Fill Up

By Kristina Blüm Justice, Inyo Register Reporter
Special to the Times

Inyo County has found itself in the worst surge of COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, and while the Northern Inyo Healthcare District is prepared, it’s up to the community to help win this battle against a virus that has claimed yet another life.

“While we are well positioned, we have finite resources and the thing that’s the biggest concern right now is our staff,” said Dr. Will Timbers, chief medical officer. “We need the community to be realistic and recognize we need them to partner with us. The community is the first line of defense against this; we are the last line of defense, and it’s up to the community to step up and do their part.”

As of Friday morning, the intensive care unit at Northern Inyo Hospital was full with four patients in critical condition. Several other COVID patients, who would normally be in the ICU, are receiving treatment in the inpatient facility.

As of the Dec. 10, the latest update as of press time, Inyo County reported 376 positive COVID-19 cases, with 91 cases currently active, 17 deaths, and 268 cases resolved. Mono County is at 400 confirmed cases and three deaths.

“Thankfully we spent hours and hours in March and April preparing for this,” said Dr. Stacey Brown, director of the Rural Health Clinic. “No ICU is going to be spared from this, and we’re going to be working as much as a team as we can, locally, regionally, as a state and nation.”

He said many people have questioned why Inyo County has been lumped into the same state region as southern California. When a patient needs to be flown out of the area for more advanced medical care – which is a common occurrence – if they are flown to a hospital in California, it will be in the southern California area. As ICU capacity surges in southern California, hospitals there will not be able to take Inyo’s more critical patients.

But the surge did not catch Inyo County’s medical professionals unprepared. On the contrary, they’ve been preparing for this eventuality for months, and those carefully laid plans are paying off for Northern Inyo Healthcare District.

“We have surge plans that are ready to be implemented, which would double our capacity,” said Alison Partridge, NIH chief nursing officer on Friday. “At this point, as of this minute, if everyone stays healthy, we are managing alright. We are stretched, and everything changes day by day, but if staff members start becoming ill, it will be a large challenge for us. The hospital is well positioned to care for our patients and our community, but we need to keep our people healthy. Please, do your part to help us with that. Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance and please follow the guidelines and rules so we can curb the spread that is already happening.”

While there are a number of potential COVID-19 vaccines coming down the pipeline, Brown noted it is likely not going to be largely available to the majority of the public until the spring or summer at the earliest. The vaccines are going to be distributed by region, so Inyo County will not be left out, and will be receiving doses of the vaccine.
“We’re as prepared as we can be,” Brown added, referring to the state of the health care district. “We’re dusting off our plans from earlier in the year and refining them. A lot of things are getting traction as the numbers keep going up.”

The hospital also is implementing voluntary weekly testing for all staff as of next week, for those staff members who want to participate. Brown said the hospital’s supply of personal protective equipment and COVID test kits remains sufficient, even as the number of tests being administered has skyrocketed.

According to a dual release from NIHD and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, as county hospitals and emergency services see sharp increases in patients and requests for service that are non-emergent, residents could see Emergency Room bed shortages and possible increased wait times. The agencies note that Inyo County has a limited amount of EMTs and front-line health care providers. The following guidelines are encouraged to curb over-extension of Inyo County’s valued COVID-19 responders:
• Do not call 911 unless it is an emergency; non-emergency calls can use (760) 878-0383, option 4
• If you have any of the following symptoms it is an EMERGENCY, call 911 or go to your local ER: difficulty breathing, persistent pain, pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to awaken, bluish lips or face, choking, acute pain, severe abdominal pain, severe bleeding, or chest pain – or any other serious injury.
• Do not go to the emergency room for non-emergency conditions. If you are not sure, contact your primary care physician.
• First, for non-emergency symptoms of COVID-19 or other illness, call your primary care physician for their expert opinion. Your doctor may offer telemedicine so you can have a virtual consultation or schedule an appointment to see you in person.