Hospital braces for surge

Social distancing is key to slowing spread of coronavirus, reducing loss of human life

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Hospital braces for surge“I don’t believe we have ever been in a situation like this, as a country or as a culture. None of our recent public health crises compare. The last time our population faced an epidemic of this proportion was in 1918 with the Spanish Influenza.”

Jim Suver, CEO of Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, emphasized the importance of taking seriously the mandates coming from the Center for Disease Control, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and other authorities recommending unprecedented actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus [COVID-19].

At press time, more than 230,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and nearly 10,000 deaths, had been reported worldwide. Nearly 10,000 cases had been reported in the U.S., resulting in more than 100 deaths.

Although locations are unknown, Kern County reported positive results for one visitor and two residents. “I do not believe it’s a question of if our community acquires coronavirus, it’s a question of when,” said Suver.

“Along those lines, we are doing everything we can to be prepared for an influx of patients. But we also need the community to understand that social isolation is absolutely key in slowing down the spread.”

Public health officials have said from the beginning that practicing good hygiene is imperative (washing hands vigorously for 20 seconds with soap and hot water, in particular).

As always, anyone presenting symptoms of illness has been encouraged to avoid going to work, school or other crowded places. But as of this weekend, Newsom began ratcheting up protocols for self-quarantine, social isolation and other means of avoiding contagion through physical contact.

All gatherings of 10 people or more have been canceled. As of Tuesday, March 16, local schools will be closing. Bars, pubs and wineries have been ordered to close operations. Restaurants, movie theaters and other public gather spaces have been directed to reduce capacity in order to limit contact among patrons.

Anyone 65 and older, or those with other conditions that make them vulnerable, have been directed to stay in their homes.

“All of these practices will be helpful in terms of managing the spread of disease, but that’s only part of the story for the hospital,” said Suver.

“Overall, the governor’s directive is good. And I believe that we can survive this if we can adhere to CDC recommendations that will slow down the pace.

“But our reference labs are inundated and having a difficult time keeping up. And the self-imposed isolation of anyone over 65 presents a challenge to RRH because a fair amount of our physicians and clinical staff fall into that age group.”

Vince Fong was able to get clarification on how that directive would impact health care workers. He said that after discussing the issue with California Office of Emergency Services and the governor’s staff, he was able to determine that the directive will not apply to doctors and nurses.

“We have not specifically exempted [anyone], but as it is advisory, key first-responders, medical personnel, etc., should use discretion and, to the degree possible, exercise social distancing,” said Fong.

“The hospital has chosen to leave it to individuals to decide what to do,” said Suver.

“However, our employees and physicians realize the obligation on those of us in health care. We have to be able to protect ourselves so that we are available to serve our patients and our community.”

He also urged people outside of that age group to take the concept of social distancing seriously.

“It’s important that our young people realize that they can be carriers, and the guidelines coming from the governor apply to them as well. It has to be everybody for this to work.”

Suver said that the hospital is as well positioned as it can be for a surge in local illness.

“RRH has more than 100 beds available. The limiting factor for us would be the availability of physicians and clinical staff on hand to treat patients.”

And with the crisis impacting the entire country, hospitals are also experiencing disruptions in the supply chain.

“Quite frankly, the nation is ill-equipped for this,” he said. “Once we are in the clear, we need to seriously reevaluate healthcare and determine the cause of delays in testing and the availability of the protective equipment that could have prevented some level of risk,” said Suver.

He said that South Korea is among the countries that have better handled testing, prevention of spread and a limited state of panic.

“It’s not a shining moment for the U.S. We need to hold our elected officials accountable about why this happened so that we can prevent it from happening again.”

The hospital adheres to CDC requirements for testing. Although those are in constant flux, the general criteria is that patients must have traveled to an area where the virus is prevalent, have been in physical contact with someone known to have the virus, or present symptoms consistent with coronavirus with no other determinable cause.

The hospital is also implementing social-distancing protocols in patients in order to reduce exposure. Patients are encouraged to first contact their physicians.

Anyone seeking treatment at the hospital who suspects they may have the disease should call ahead (760-446-3551) so that arrangements can be made to receive the patient with limited exposure to others.

The hospital is also posting regular updates on social media and at

“I believe the hospital can handle our community needs at this point,” said Suver. “But we need your cooperation on minimizing contact.”

The hospital is in the process of providing childcare for employees whose children will be out of school for the next few weeks, as well as other needs that arise.

“Pray for us, for the United States, and the world — that we survive this and that we can minimize the toll in human life.”

Pictured: Symptomatic patients are asked to contact clinics ahead of time so that clinicians can make arrangements to receive them. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-03-20