Although Valley-area hospitals are far more prepared for the Omicron surge than previous waves, challenges remain due to Omicron’s highly contagious nature. Dr. Larry Kidd is the chief clinical officer and chief nurse executive at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia. He reported as of Jan. 10, the hospital is seeing about a 25 percent decrease in hospitalized patients compared to that same date last year, when the last significant surge occurred. “The numbers are still significant,” Kidd wrote in a follow up email. The Omicron surge remains dynamic. On January 10, national hospitalizations surpassed the COVID-19 surge of last winter while Los Angeles County hospitalizations continued to rise according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. According to Dr. Nancy Gin, regional medical director for quality for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Kaiser hospitals in the region are seeing hospitalization increases that are notable, but not quite to the extent of the last surge. She reported as of Jan. 10, Kaiser was experiencing 40 percent of the overall hospital admissions, 22 percent of the ICU capacity and 17 percent of the ventilator use it was seeing on the same date last year. Kidd and Gin lauded the COVID-19 vaccine for the manageable hospitalization rates they are seeing. “Part of the reason why we see this improvement is we do have vaccinations now, which remain our best defense against severe disease,” Gin explained. “The vaccines were designed not to prevent you from ever getting COVID, but they’re designed to prevent you from dying from COVID and I think in large measures for most folks, they have been very effective.”
Time to prepare
In addition to vaccines, another factor favoring local hospitals is having time to prepare at an organizational level for more patients and the need for supplies.
Kidd said that Henry Mayo Newhall is now more efficient in terms of COVID-19 patient organization and that the hospital is sufficiently stocked up on medical goods and equipment.
Medical supply and equipment shortages were commonplace in 2020, impacting accessibility to personal protective equipment, ventilators and ICU medications among other things.
Brandon Rapport is the co-founder of KIS Direct Supply in Chatsworth, a company currently operating out of Rapport’s garage that has offered PPE to local businesses and hospitals. Rapport said that there has been no issue in keeping up with demand for PPE like masks and gloves.
The challenge for KIS is meeting demand for COVID self-test kits. Rapport said demand for tests has been impacted due to increased demand that came during and after the holidays and supply being slowed at customs.
Daphne Yousem, a spokesperson for Los Robles Health System told the Business Journal in a statement that its regional medical center in Thousand Oaks had a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for the ongoing COVID-19 surge.
“We have more treatments available including Monoclonal Antibody (mAb) Therapeutics as well as early treatment protocols for mAb for patients who are at high-risk for complications from COVID-19,” Yousem wrote. “In addition, we have plenty of PPE.”
However, the seemingly never-ending problem of staffing disruptions remains a significant setback at multiple hospitals.
Kidd and Gin both highlighted the Omicron variants’ contagiousness as having a significant impact on staff. An increasing number of health workers are contracting the variant, putting them out of work for multiple days. Additionally, according to both doctors, there are cases where employees must take care of family members who have contracted the variant.
“It could be a child,” Kidd said. “There’s a little bit of an uptick in children contracting COVID so family members sometimes are requiring the workers to be home to help with their care.”
Gin said that the peak of the surge might come relatively soon, perhaps in the third or fourth week of January, but that hospitals will still have to get down the other side of the case slope.
Vaccines are administered at an Antelope Valley Hospital vaccine clinic.
Antelope Valley Hospital’s Chief Executive Edward Mirzabegian wrote in an email that the hospital also faces staff shortages.
“A lot of people are getting this virus and they have to stay away five to 10 days; second we have a lot of shortage of nurses,” Mirzabegian wrote in an email. “This time it’s very different because it has nothing to do with the disease; it has more to do with the shortages and the vaccination mandates for employees in order to be able to comply with their workplaces.”
Mirzabegian added that another challenge when dealing with Omicron is that three antibodies that once worked on the virus are not working on Omicron at all.
Gin has seen the same issue arise. “Some of the challenge with monoclonal antibodies is most of the ones that we’ve had in good supply up until now are not effective against Omicron,” she said.
One antibody that does work against Omicron called sotrovimab is in extremely short supply, Gin added.
“We do still have remdesivir – it’s tried and true,” Gin said. “It got us through last year and it got us through the summer. So, it is available but does need to be administered over several days. And that’s where the staffing issue comes into play.”