The coronavirus has hospitalized 3,370 residents of Kern County since the start of the pandemic. At its peak last January, 453 patients were simultaneously staying in local hospitals.
Yet despite the healthcare system’s push to the brink, space remained available for most patients who sought treatment. In large part, that’s because the Kern County Oversight Board won a contract with Rightsourcing Inc., a healthcare platform that provided the county with itinerant nurses for a year and a half.
To date, the county has allocated about $ 17.2 million in federal funds to mobile nurses, boosting local staffing levels beyond their previous limits. Much of these nurses were assigned to intensive care units, parts of the hospital where the most severely affected patients were being treated, and areas most at risk of invasion.
“We had a contingency plan that we all had to work on to find out what would happen if we had to ration care, and no one wanted to ration care – make decisions about who you were going to try to save and who you couldn’t. not – and we didn’t have to because of this arrangement, ”said Bruce Peters, President and CEO of Mercy Hospitals. “It was really a lifeline in the truest sense of the word.”
Sometimes mobile nurses made up more than half of the total number of nurses on the floor of a COVID wing. In recent times, they have been used to replace sick nurses, or those who wanted to take a Christmas vacation after more than a year of hard work.
“The pandemic is like a natural disaster that continues to unfold, you still have to continue caring for these patients,” said Scott Thygerson, CEO of Kern Medical. “The nurses the state and county have provided have been vital to us. “
Several hospitals have credited the rapid obtaining of a traveling nurse contract relatively early in the pandemic.
“We did it very early on and in many cases long before most other counties had done it,” said Ryan Alsop, administrative director for Kern County. “We felt it was essential. We knew there were a limited number of traveling nurses and that they would be in high demand. We wanted to tackle it early, get a contract, make sure we had a pipeline of people that was going to be guaranteed in Kern County was very important. “
Itinerant nurses haven’t come cheap. Their wages hovered around $ 150 an hour. But they have almost doubled the capacity of intensive care. At Adventist Health, mobile nurses have helped the hospital exceed its authorized ICU capacity from 30 to almost 50 beds.
As the county faces the start of another outbreak caused by the highly contagious variant of omicron, an additional $ 3.5 million has been allocated to support hospital staff.
At this point in the outbreak, hospitals are reporting that a lower proportion of patients seeking care require intensive care unit treatment. However, since December 28, hospitalizations have dropped from 114 to 167.
“It’s not that we are seeing high acuity patients like we were, but we are still seeing huge numbers of patients who are not feeling well,” said Heather Van Housen, senior nurse at Adventist Health . “I am concerned about the speed with which our volumes are increasing. “
She and other medical experts continued to recommend immunizations and booster shots to reduce the risk of hospitalization. Thinking back to the pandemic, she acknowledged that nurses had had a huge impact on local patient care.
“As a county it was difficult, but we came together in a great way,” she added. “Good partnerships have formed, and I think it’s important that we recognize that we have handled this crisis well as a county.”
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You can also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC