Long Beach Memorial cancels some elective surgeries as local hospitals prepare for onslaught of COVID-19 patients

As California hospitalizations for COVID-19 hit record levels, at least one local hospital has canceled some elective surgeries, while others say they’re holding steady for now.

The Southern California region on Friday reported an intensive care unit bed capacity of just 6.2%, down from 7.7% on Thursday. Overall, the state has seen a roughly 70% increase in ICU admissions in just two weeks, leaving less than 1,500 of the 7,800 total ICU beds available.

Long Beach has five area hospitals it tracks for COVID-19 hospitalizations (including both Miller Children’s and Memorial, which are part of the same company). As of Thursday, a total of 199 COVID patients were hospitalized in the area, up from 29 people on Nov. 1.

Though Long Beach has close to 1,400 staffed beds available and 182 ICU beds, local facilities must also accommodate patients for other emergencies, and winter is typically one of the busiest times of year due to flu season.

It was not clear how much total capacity local facilities currently have, nor how many patients are in local ICUs.

The significant increase in COVID patients has, however, prompted Long Beach Memorial Medical Center to pause certain elective surgeries that require ICU admissions, but that does not include cardiac patients, LBMMC spokesperson Richele Steele said in a statement.

“This is a very fluid situation that changes not only by day, but by the hour, and we are constantly evaluating to what extent we can continue providing resources that are non-emergencies,” she said. “In addition, we continue to monitor any additional guidance from (California) and other state agencies.”

Steele said the hospital is “safely treating and caring for all patients, including those infected with COVID-19.”

“We have plans in place and resources lined up to enable us to address an increase in patients should the surge continue to climb over the coming weeks,” she said.

Lakewood Regional has not made the decision to cancel electives, and St. Mary Medical Center has opted to keep elective surgeries for now and continues to “implement clinical and operational changes to ensure that we are providing the safest care possible to our patients,” the hospital said in a statement.

“In preparation for an influx of COVID-19 cases, St. Mary has identified additional beds that can be converted for ICU use,” the hospital said. “We are constantly monitoring the circumstances in Long Beach to determine whether or not our surge plans need to be enacted. At this time, we have not enacted such plans.”

Dr. Mauricio Heilbron, a trauma physician at St. Mary, said “nurses are worked to the bone.”

“The overall mood is like, this is sort of like wartime, being in the trenches,” he said during a live chat with the Post. “We’re going to support each other and do what we can.”

Jennifer Bayer, a spokesperson for Los Alamitos Medical Center, said the hospital has not canceled elective surgeries for now and is closely monitoring capacity.

“It’s an hour-by-hour, facility-by-facility decision based on their own census and capacity,” she said. “And this isn’t new, this is something hospitals watch all the time.”

Non-emergency surgeries don’t include purely cosmetic procedures and can be operations like heart valve replacements, tumor removals and preventative services such as colonoscopies.

They are a revenue lifeblood for hospitals, many of which have lost substantial sums when elective procedures were postponed for weeks in California last April.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County reported another round of record-setting numbers on Friday with 13,815 new COVID cases.

“I want to sound an alarm we’ve been sounding for the last month: in LA County we are in uncharted territory at this point,” county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a news conference Friday. “We’re seeing daily numbers of cases and hospitalizations we have never experienced and quite frankly did not anticipate. Our intensive care unit bed capacity continues to drop. We’re on a very dangerous track to seeing unprecedented and catastrophic suffering and death here in LA County if we can’t stop the surge.”

The average for daily new case average has doubled over the last 10 days, while 3,624 patients are currently hospitalized. Of those, 23% are in an ICU, while 15% are on ventilators.

Ferrer on Friday said the impact from people gathering over Thanksgiving has now created an extraordinary stress on the region’s healthcare system.

“Should this be followed by another surge related to the winter holiday, the number of patients in the ICU could become catastrophic,” she said. “At this point, it’s not a question of if we’ll see a large increase in hospitalizations and deaths, it’s a question of what we can do to stop any future surges.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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