City: Hospital not prepared for ‘surge’

197
Representatives from Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital spoke at a Tele-Town Hall last Friday.

Local and regional hospital officials said during a March 27 virtual town hall that they are probably not prepared for a potential overnight flood of COVID-19 patients, and that is why it’s so important for residents to stay home as much as possible during the current stay-at-home orders. 

Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital’s Ken Underwood and Michael Bogey were two of the four speakers in the “Tele-Town Hall” hosted by Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). Underwood, the CEO of Hazel Hawkins Hospital, and Bogey, the medical director, relayed information and gave updates regarding COVID-19.

Bogey and Underwood talked about the current state of affairs at the hospital, and reinforced how vital it is for people to take the shelter-in-place order seriously. The two spoke after Dr. Edward Moreno, who is the bureau chief of the Public Health Office of Monterey County, and Dr. Craig Walls, the chief medical officer of Natividad Hospital in Salinas, shared their viewpoints and answered questions sent to them by members of the public. 

“One of the difficult things for us is we operate as a critical assets hospital, meaning we have limited supplies, limited staff,” Bogey said. “We don’t have enough staff for a surge (when a hospital has reached the point of over capacity), so if we get hundreds of people overnight, that could be a big challenge for us. Our county is working on other plans for surges.”

Which is why the mandated shelter-in-place order becomes more critical, to lower the chances of a surge at Hazel Hawkins Hospital. 

“We’ve prepared supplemental staff with nurses and physicians in case of a surge,” Underwood said. “We’ve been projecting from what we’re told is at least a 50 percent surge in appointments, so we have supplies to meet our current expectations and projections.”

The bottom line coming out of the Tele-Town Hall was this: everyone needs to step up and do their part during this pandemic. 

“If we don’t (follow the) shelter-in-place (mandate), if we’re careless and if we’re not thinking about our neighbor or relatives who are older and have medical problems, we really run the risk of seeing a surge that would be much harder for us to handle,” Walls said. “I sense everyone needs to pull together, the fight begins at home and that has never been more true. It’s difficult and it’s challenging for all of us, but you’re a part of the fight. And if you’re doing that, and if we all pull together, we’re going to win.”

While hospitals all across the country have faced a ventilator shortage, Hazel Hawkins in Hollister is good—for now. Hazel Hawkins has seven ventilators, but the plan is to acquire additional equipment. 

“I was told finding a ventilator today is like trying to find a unicorn,” Bogey said. “We are working to find more.”

Underwood said the hospital has access to “over 500 testing kits locally” so the hospital would be able to test within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Hazel Hawkins has a respiratory tent sectioned off from other units for COVID-19 along with a drive-up/tent testing that has been in place for the last three weeks. The hospital has separated the emergency department—which contains people with serious health issues such as heart attacks and strokes—away from the respiratory tents. Just as important, the hospital has a hotline number to call that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to start the process on whether one should get screened for the coronavirus. 

“Our emergency nurses are manning the hotlines, and people are calling 24/7 with questions wondering if they should be screened and what to do,” Bogey said. “We are testing people that meet the county requirements. … We’re testing for those individuals that have significant symptoms or other diseases that put them at risk.”

The hospital encourages people to call in for an assessment and to arrange a time for them to drive up or come into the tent to get tested, Bogey said. That way, the hospital won’t be overrun with visitors and the entrance/exits into and out of the hospital won’t get backed up to the point where it would cause major issues. Bogey and Underwood were effusive in their praise for San Benito and neighboring counties, noting state and regional health offices and agencies have been exceptional in lending services and support, Underwood said. 

For example, Monterey County is processing the COVID-19 tests for Hazel Hawkins Hospital, Bogey said, and Underwood added the Monterey County Lab “has been very cooperative” in helping the hospital.