Amid COVID Surge in LA, a 'Health Care Nightmare'

Hospitals are having to make 'tough decisions' about patient care
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2021 9:45 AM CST
In LA County, a 'Point of Crisis'
This Sept. 30, 2011, file photo shows the emergency room entrance at the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Santa Clarita, Calif.   (AP Photo/Jason Redmond, File)

The spike of COVID cases in Los Angeles County has brought hospitals there to a "point of crisis," according to the county's health services chief, with hospitals discharging people more quickly than usual to make room for new patients, and several area hospitals declaring "internal disasters" over the weekend, per the Los Angeles Daily News. A Monday memo from the county's Emergency Medical Services Agency instructs ambulance crews to administer supplemental oxygen only to patients "with oxygen saturation below 90%," with few exceptions. A second memo directs that adult patients who don't seem like they're going to make it "shall not be transported" to any area hospitals. That means if a patient's heart has stopped, with no pulse or breathing present, they aren't to be brought to a hospital unless they can be resuscitated and have their pulse brought back at the scene.

"Many hospitals ... are having to make very tough decisions about patient care," Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, tells the Los Angeles Times, which notes some patients are waiting up to eight hours in ambulances before being taken into packed ERs. To make matters worse, Ghaly says hospitals likely haven't yet seen the uptick in virus cases expected after holiday gatherings. EMSA chief Dr. Marianne Gausche-Hill stresses to CBS2 that the recent memos from her agency don't mean patients are being abandoned. "We are absolutely doing best-practice resuscitation," she says, just "in the field," without putting an extra strain on hospitals. KABC elaborates on the county's "health care nightmare," with residents being urged not to call 911 unless absolutely necessary. "If you need emergency medical services through 911 ... your care may be compromised or significantly delayed," says Dr. Mark Eckstein, who heads up the city fire department's EMS Bureau. (More Los Angeles County stories.)

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