Fresno County hospitals overwhelmed with patients

Hospitals across Fresno County report operational impacts from increased patient admissions, individuals entering the emergency department for non-urgent medical problems

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Serena Bettis
Published December 19, 2023  • 
4:20 pm

FRESNO COUNTY – Area hospitals are currently operating at 20-40% over maximum capacity due to an influx of admitted patients and individuals seeking non-urgent medical care, the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) announced. 

In a Dec. 18 press release, FCDPH said it was “pleading” with residents to access non-emergency care at local clinics, urgent care centers, physician’s offices or through telehealth appointments instead of going to a hospital’s emergency department. According to the release, hospitals throughout Fresno County are reporting “severely impacted conditions” and are using conference rooms and other non-patient areas to accommodate all patients. 

“If conditions in the hospitals don’t improve, hospitals may need to temporarily divert patients for a period until it is safe to re-open, which would place significant pressure on other local hospitals that remain open,” FCDPH said.

Mato Parker, Emergency Medical Services coordinator for the Central California Emergency Medical Services Agency (CCEMSA), said the EMS system is functioning as it should, but county officials want to ensure it continues to do so. 

Parker said that in the last four to six months, there has been an increase in patients seeking medical care in the emergency departments of all major hospitals in the Fresno and Clovis area that the county has not seen before — or at least in a very long time — even when considering the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As such, FCDPH and CCEMSA are “working to mitigate this continued issue of hospital overcrowding,” Parker said.

The best way to do that is to encourage the public to access other resources in order to limit the impact on emergency departments, saving resources for severe emergencies such as heart attacks, strokes or trauma injuries.

To help with this, FCDPH and the CCEMSA have had an “assess and refer” policy in place since Nov. 17 to limit the transportation of non-emergency patients to emergency rooms by ambulance. 

Under the assess and refer policy, first responders will assess a patient who called for emergency services to determine if they are stable and do not require emergency transportation. If they do not need emergency transportation, the responding EMS will recommend the appropriate alternate course of action. 

According to FCDPH, wait times in emergency departments for patients not experiencing medical emergencies can exceed 10 hours, and ambulances often have to wait 1-2 hours to turn over patients to a hospital. 

FCDPH attributes the rise in hospitalizations to a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses caused by circulating viruses, including COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and Influenza. Parker said it’s not one particular type of illness or injury that hospitals are seeing more of, but rather a collection of medical emergencies alongside the increase in respiratory illnesses that occurs during the colder months.

“It’s a collection of everything coming together and peaking at one time,” Parker said.

COVID-19, Influenza rates

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Division of Communicable Disease Control tracks respiratory virus data on a weekly basis to see trends in COVID-19 and flu rates. Its most recent data update from Dec. 15 showed that new COVID-19 hospital admissions were down in the prior week, but new Influenza hospital admissions were up.

For the week of Dec. 2-8, there were 2,204 new COVID-19 hospital admissions, a 14.3% decline from the week before, according to CDPH; however, there were also 770 new Influenza hospital admissions, a 16.8% increase from the past week. 

In Fresno County specifically, data through Dec. 9 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a 7.4% increase in hospital admissions of confirmed COVID-19 cases from the week before, with a total of 101 new admissions. 

Also through Dec. 9, an average of 4.8% of staffed inpatient hospital beds across Fresno County were occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to CDC data. Madera and Kings counties had the same rate, though other nearby counties had lower rates; only 2.2% of staff inpatient beds in Tulare County were occupied by COVID-19 patients in the week leading up to Dec. 9. 

Virus precautions 

FCDPH has continuously stressed that preventative measures are necessary to slow the spread of respiratory illnesses and help area hospitals remain under their maximum capacities to ensure patients receive the best care possible. 

FCDPH advises that eligible individuals stay up-to-date with vaccinations against COVID-19, the flu and RSV. All three vaccines can be administered at the same time, and the state of California has the My Turn website available for individuals to find where they can get vaccinated and schedule an appointment.

Anyone six months old or older can receive the most recent COVID-19 vaccine booster and the annual flu vaccine. For the RSV vaccine, individuals over 60 years of age and pregnant individuals between 32 and 36 weeks should consult their doctors on whether the RSV vaccine is necessary or right for them.

For most individuals with health insurance, COVID-19 and flu vaccines continue to be free of cost, and those without insurance can utilize the CDC’s Bridge Access Program for adults or the federal Vaccines for Children program for those 18 years old or younger.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter