Originally published in the Fresno Bee.
By Craig Castro, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of Community Medical Centers.
While social engagements have come to a standstill in order to slow down the COVID-19 virus, Community Medical Centers’ health system is a flurry of activity, preparing for a predicted surge of patients from as far away as the Bay Area. Currently our patient volume is below normal as a result of a statewide mandate to halt elective medical procedures.
However, over the past month we have:
- Responded to Gov. Newsom’s request to increase capacity with a plan to expand Community’s ICU beds by 100% and lower-acuity beds by 50%.
- Found new ways to conserve and re-process personal protective equipment (PPE). About 15,000 masks, 3,000 gowns and 600 goggles are needed across Community’s health system every 24 hours.
- Amassed a labor pool of hundreds of health-care workers ready to care for an influx of patients.
- Expanded work-at-home capabilities for more than 1,000 non-clinical employees.
- Increased telemedicine services so that 25 care locations across Community’s system can see patients virtually.
As the San Joaquin Valley’s Level 1 trauma center, Community prepares for the worst, life- threatening situations. We are also a resource that can be trusted for up-to-date information. Lately, 60% of visitors to www.CommunityMedical.org seek COVID-19 information. Here are some of the most important things to know:
Information on reputable websites like ours, the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) likely isn’t new to you. Hand washing, social distancing, and disinfecting surfaces are your first, best defenses. Fresno County’s interim health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, advises that wearing a mask in public — even the handmade variety — is added protection. At our hospitals, visitors are restricted and clinical safety experts visit patient-care areas daily to ensure we’re appropriately using PPE and practicing all safety measures.
The limited number of COVID-19 testing sites has been frustrating for all of us. Because of high demand, our nation’s labs struggle for adequate equipment and supplies to process test results. Most Fresno-area tests are sent to processing labs outside the Valley, which increases the turnaround time. Community processes a few hundred COVID-19 tests each day, mainly for our hospitals’ patients. We hope to increase that processing number to more than 1,000 per day, but that will depend on obtaining the equipment and supplies necessary. It’s a nationwide issue that we’ll continue to work on.
With or without a confirmed COVID-19 test result, our actions should be the same. If you’re experiencing symptoms, know that most of us will recover at home. The CDC, www.cdc.gov, has a helpful symptom self-checker. Call your physician or nearby clinic for guidance on whether you should be tested. If so, you’ll likely be referred to the county’s health department. A hospital emergency department should be your last resort, but don’t hesitate if you are in distress. If you need a physician, you can find one by visiting our website at www.CommunityMedical.org and clicking “Find A Doctor.”
There is no specific treatment approved for COVID-19. Under a physician’s supervision, most people can recover at home. Those at high risk, however, can’t be too careful. That includes the elderly and people with such medical conditions as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney or liver disease. Promising studies are under way for drugs and other therapies, such as the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. Our own Central Valley Blood Center is approved to collect plasma to treat COVID-19. While we hope hospitalization isn’t necessary, we are doing everything we can to ensure the appropriate level of treatment is available.
There are still questions about the virus we don’t have answers to. But you should know that the Fresno-area medical community, city and county officers, and elected officials are working together to overcome this terrible virus. We are fortunate to have one of the state’s leading infectious disease specialists, Dr. Robert Libke, as chairman of infection prevention at Community. His leadership, combined with other leading-edge medical minds, has kept the San Joaquin Valley on the proactive side of this pandemic.
It’s crises like this that demand our best work. In my daily discussions with Valley legislators, fellow hospital leaders, physicians, and Community Medical Centers’ staff, I’m confident we’re getting that. Though we don’t know how fast or hard the coronavirus will impact our Valley, we do know that you’re counting on our Valley’s everyday health-care heroes to shine.