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January 24, 2021

Monterey County hospitals coordinate to fight growing pandemic

Mee Memorial faces nurse shortage under budgetary strain

MONTEREY COUNTY — Representatives from Monterey County’s four hospitals spoke during a press briefing Dec. 9 to share how they are coordinating to react to the recent surge in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations.

Mee Memorial’s Chief Medical Officer Robert Valladares was joined by Natividad’s CMO Craig Walls, CHOMP’s Infectious Disease Specialist Martha Blum and Salinas Valley Memorial’s CEO Allen Radner.

“We are all in this together,” Walls said about the collaboration. “This virus does not discriminate between zip codes and identities or whether you’re closer to one hospital or the other.”

“It really took the pandemic to bring us all together,” Valladares added. “Over the last week, we went from having no inpatients last Sunday (Nov. 29) to having eight inpatients this Sunday (Dec. 6), six of which were Covid transfers from the neighboring hospitals.”

Valladares explained Mee Memorial’s role as “taking the lower acuity patients that only need some oxygen, a steroid shot or their home medications.” He noted Mee Memorial has 25 acute beds, and said the King City hospital is licensed for four ICU beds, but doesn’t have the critical care nurse staffing for those beds.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been using the ICU to expand our emergency department’s capacity to deal with respiratory illness,” Valladares said.

The need for collaboration has caused all area facilities to be impacted together.

“It’s not just the hospitals with ICUs that are being affected with the increased amount of Covid cases in the ICU, it’s also the hospitals without an ICU,” Valladares said. “We’ve had a lot of difficulty this week transferring patients that need an ICU because the hospitals are getting so overwhelmed.”

Valladares urged residents throughout the county to follow health guidelines, stressing the point that social distancing works, but he sees people ignoring guidance while out at stores.

“At some point, people do need to take on a greater level of personal responsibility because being irresponsible is affecting everyone in the county at this point,” he said.

The increase in transmission means hospitals now must coordinate to best treat a growing number of patients.

“We are working closely with the other hospitals to have them transferred to Mee Memorial so they can recover here and free up the hospitals with more advanced capabilities, like Salinas and Natividad and CHOMP, to take care of the more ill patients,” Valladares said.

According to Blum, all the hospitals have their own surge plans.

“Everyone here locally, as well as the nation at large, has these plans for what to do when you get to the point where you have to make really tough decisions of who gets that ventilator or who gets that hospital bed,” Blum said.

The shifts, as well as limited federal assistance to area hospitals, have had an effect on locations, such as Mee Memorial.

“At a federal level, our hospital has not received nearly the amount of help that it needs,” Valladares said. “We are really struggling with staffing, specifically nurse staffing.”

Valladares explained the shortage has caused Mee Memorial to suspend their labor and delivery department.

“We are now using the beds to be able to take more patients, but we don’t have the nurses and the travel nurses rates have gone up significantly to where our hospital cannot afford to bring those travel nurses on because the rates are so high,” he said. “Without there being another stimulus that is really focused on helping hospitals, we are going to continue to struggle to get by from a financial point of view.”

The four area hospitals have assisted each other by pooling what resources they do have available.

“We do have staff moving between hospitals,” Valladares said. “Currently our two family practice and obstetrics trained physicians … are delivering those moms, who would have delivered at Mee, at Natividad Medical Center.”

Mothers-to-be are still being seen at Mee Memorial’s clinics for prenatal care, but deliveries require a trip to Salinas.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s one of those things we had to do to make sure the hospital survives the pandemic,” Valladares said.

“We’re a small community and one of the things about the medical community in Monterey County is that there is a closeness that comes from the doctors, and nurses that travel throughout multiple hospitals and can share those best practices,” Walls added. “We’re used to sharing.”

Valladares also reminded residents to understand that hospitals have safety procedures in place and should not hesitate to seek medical help if they have problems.

“They really should not be taking it upon themselves to make the decision to put off their medical care without consulting their physician,” he said. “A lot of patients took it upon themselves to make the medical decision to postpone their medical care without seeking the input of their physician, so we had a lot of patients who had their chronic illnesses get much worse because they were not being cared for by a physician for many months.”

In addition, Valladeres reminded county residents about the importance of flu shots this year.

Sean Roney
Sean Roney
Sean Roney is the reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers education, government and general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.

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