Kaweah Delta cuts down on surgeries, visitors in light of massive COVID surge

The Sun-Gazette

Due to increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Kaweah Delta Medical Center limits surgeries, goes to online rapid testing registration as of Dec. 7

VISALIA – Tulare County’s largest hospital is approaching levels of COVID-19 patients rivaling the pandemic’s peak hospitalizations in July. In an effort to better protect the health and safety of the community, Kaweah Delta Medical Center has limited elective surgeries, modified visitor guidelines, and unveiled an online scheduling system that will make it more convenient for people to schedule rapid COVID testing.

“As you know, the situation with COVID remains very fluid and as conditions change we have to make decisions to better protect our community, our patients, and our healthcare team,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Delta’s chief executive officer. “Unfortunately, conditions have worsened locally, so we do need to move forward with changes to reduce the risk of somebody bringing the virus into our Medical Center inadvertently.”

On Monday, Kaweah Delta reduced surgical procedures and focused on medically necessary procedures in an effort to build hospital capacity. On Tuesday, Kaweah Delta made changes to its visitor guidelines, allowing just one unique visitor throughout a patient’s stay (excluding those in the emergency department). This visitor must be the same visitor each day. Additionally, visitor hours have been reduced to 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. The hospital is making exceptions for end-of-life patients, labor and delivery/NICU/pediatric patients, dementia/developmentally delayed patients, and other rapidly changing conditions. To be considered for an exemption to these guidelines, individuals can contact the patient’s charge nurse or manager of the patient care units.

“Nobody could appreciate the power of visitation more than us. We understand how it benefits the healing process and how it benefits communication between patients and caregivers,” Herbst said. “The most painful thing we ever did was to go to no visitors. We were really excited to open back up, but with the number of cases and the risk it presents to the patients and staff, we just have to really limit the number of people that are in the hospital.”

Kaweah Delta also eliminated walk-in COVID testing on Monday and instead is allowing people to schedule appointments online to better meet demand for rapid COVID-19 testing. Online registration opened at 5 p.m. on Saturday for appointments on Monday and Tuesday. The move is expected to eliminate wait times, improve the patient’s experience, and allow staff at Kaweah Delta’s Urgent Care sites to focus on those seeking care for conditions that are not related to COVID, said Ryan Gates, Vice President of Population Health. In the past month, calls to Kaweah Delta for rapid testing have tripled, going from 5,317 in October to 14,374 in November.

“We have been working to add staff and providers as quickly as we can to help address this increase. We believe this move to online schedule will definitely help in a number of ways,” Gates said. “We project that we will have the capacity to offer 600 tests across all of our testing sites.”

The online platform at www.kaweahdelta.org will allow online scheduling up to 48-hours in advance at Kaweah Delta’s two Urgent Care Centers and at its clinics in Lindsay, Dinuba, and Exeter (online registration will be available starting Saturday, Dec. 5 at 5 p.m.). Sequoia Prompt Care will also move to the platform next week; Visalia Medical Clinic’s QuickCare will not have the online scheduling option available.

Following a telehealth visit at their scheduled appointment time, individuals will come in for a walk-up COVID test. Results will be available same-day; text messages will be sent to those who are negative and those who are positive will receive phone calls. For those who cannot schedule appointments online, Kaweah Delta’s COVID-19 Screening Hotline (559) 624-4110 will be used as a message line. To maintain reasonable wait times, Kaweah Delta will offer a fixed number of online testing appointments. There is no cost to anyone receiving this service at Kaweah Delta’s Urgent Care Centers or at its clinics in Lindsay, Dinuba and Exeter. Insurance will be billed; however, VMC and Sequoia Prompt Care do not accept all insurance plans, so individuals should contact each of those facilities to ensure their insurance is accepted prior to receiving services. When there are no available online appointments 48-hours out, Kaweah Delta is asking that people get tested elsewhere in Tulare County by visiting the list of testing locations at covid19.tularecounty.ca.gov/covid-19-testing-sites/all-testing-locations.

As of press time, Kaweah Delta was caring for 79 patients in the hospital, eight of which were in the Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit. Thirty-three of the 41 ICU beds were occupied by patients. In early October, Kaweah Delta was down to as few as 14 COVID-positive patients in the hospital on Oct. 24 from its high of 91 patients on July 25.

Earlier this week, Kaweah Delta published information detailing the underlying conditions of its COVID-19 patients—hypertension, diabetes, obesity, etc. Hypertension has been the leading underlying condition of our hospitalized COVID patients throughout the pandemic, followed by diabetes, heart disease, obesity, chronic kidney disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“We share this information because while everyone is at risk of contracting the virus and could require hospitalization, we want people to be extremely careful if you have one of these conditions,” Herbst said.

Kaweah Delta shares COVID-19 information and regular updates, including parking and construction news, with the community on its web site at www.kaweahdelta.org/COVID19 and on its social media accounts.

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