Santa Clara County begins seeing ambulance delays due to overwhelmed hospitals

Photo: Santa Clara Co. EMS/Twitter
By Jay Barmann - Published on January 05, 2021.

Though the situation in hospitals remains worse in Southern California, Santa Clara County has become the first county in the Bay Area to experience serious delays as ambulances arrive at emergency rooms — due to the ERs and the hospitals already being overwhelmed with patients. As cases and hospitalizations potentially surge again following the holidays, other counties are on alert that this emergency-response failure may spread.

Patients suffering a variety of ailments are being triaged and at times delayed for hours on arrival at Santa Clara County hospitals, as ABC 7 reports, with wait times outside ERs of seven hours being reported because there is no more space to admit them inside.

"What's happening now is because of the volume, because of the impact on hospitals, we're seeing these wait times, we're seeing these back-ups in emergency rooms, and that concerns us a lot," said Santa Clara County counsel James Williams, speaking to ABC 7. "All of our hospitals are feeling these impacts. It's not just one or two."

Santa Clara County had 738 confirmed and suspected COVID patients in hospitals as of Monday, January 4th, 14 more than the previous day and marking a new high since the pandemic began and after a month of steadily rising hospitalizations. The county had 312 COVID patients — less than half — in hospitals on December 1. And according to county data, 92% of ICU beds are currently occupied — meaning that 8% available capacity remains in the county, only slightly higher than the current regional average of 5.9%.

San Francisco's available ICU capacity, meanwhile, stands at 35% according to SF Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax in a Tuesday update — and SF had 219 total COVID patients in hospitals as of Sunday.

In Los Angeles County, a "human disaster" has been occurring as hospitals there are in an even more extreme state of crowding, and as COVID cases have continued to surge there, according to one county superviso. As CNN reports, with 7,900 COVID patients in county hospitals in addition to other patients, Los Angeles County's Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agency issued an order telling EMS personnel that patients who don't have a chance of survival should not be transported to hospitals. EMS staff has been told to perform CPR in the field and attempt resuscitation for 20 minutes, but if a patient does not show a "return of spontaneous circulation" in the field, they are not to be brought to an emergency room.

Also, due shortages on oxygen, EMS has been told not to administer oxygen in the field unless a patient has below 90% oxygen saturation.

While this situation has not spread to the Bay Area yet, experts have warned that a January surge in cases could lead to an increasing crush on local hospitals.

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