'Historic' number of admissions straining hospitals, California county warns

Officials in Fresno County, Calif., are pleading with the public to avoid emergency rooms for nonemergency conditions as its hospitals face significant strain, operating over capacity by a minimum of 20% to 40%.

Hospitals in the county are seeing a "historic number" of admitted patients amid a sharp rise in respiratory disease from COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, the Fresno County Department of Public Health and Central California Emergency Medical Services said in a Dec. 18 news release. 

As hospitals exceed capacity, some patients waiting to be admitted are being held in the emergency department for up to four days. Non-patient areas including conference rooms are also being used to hold patients, officials said. Health officials are urging people to utilize urgent care centers, clincis, physicians' offices and telehealth for nonemergency care as ED waiting times regularly exceed 10 hours for patients with nonemergencies. 

"If conditions in the hospitals don't improve, hospitals may need to temporarily divert patients for a period until it is safe to re-open, which would place significant pressure on other local hospitals that remain open," the health department said, adding that the area currently has an "assess and refer policy" in which ambulances assess patients and give alternative recommendations when a patient is stable and does not require emergent transport. 

According to ABC affiliate KFSN, Valley Children's Hospital is among those experiencing significant strain, with videos showing beds lined up along a hallway on Dec. 16. Meanwhile, Fresno-based Community Regional Medical Center recently closed its 10-bed pediatric intensive care unit amid higher demand for adult patients. Children in need of ICU-level care will still be able to receive care in the adult unit.  

"With the continued high volume of patients seeking care in the region, it makes good sense to transition these underutilized beds to treat adult ICU patients without sacrificing specialty specialty services or bed capacity," Danny Davis, BSN, chief clinical and operations officer at Community Health System, which includes Community Regional, said in a statement to local news outlets. "The same high quality intensive care will continue for our pediatric patients at Community Regional, as it always has." 

Community Regional Medical Center and other Fresno County-area hospitals have faced significant strain since the closure of Madera (Calif.) Community Hospital in December of 2022.  


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