Swamped SoCal hospitals transferring COVID-19 patients to Bay Area facilities

COVID-19 patients from southern California are now being sent to hospitals in the Bay Area.

With the virus surging in the southern part of the state, some medical facilities are at or near capacity, forcing health officials to find additional beds to take them.

Bay Area hospitals have taken in COVID-19 patients from as far south as Imperial County, which shares a border with Mexico.

“Both hospitals are overwhelmed with the number of COVID-19 patients,” said Sergio Cardenas, who works for Reach Air Medical Services, a company contracted by the state that is transporting patients to the Bay Area.

The healthcare system in Imperial County, just east of San Diego, is being flooded with coronavirus patients.

“The facilities arrange a transfer to get a bed for these patients when they can’t find one locally. That radius gets further and wider and wider so, as far as the Bay Area,” said Cardenas.

UCSF is one hospital taking in patients from distances that are typically outside the norm.

“It speaks to the fact that it’s very unusual times and I would say that, not counting Imperial county as a referral center, our COVID-19 census is probably about 50% outside counties right now, including Imperial County and Marin County as two examples, but also other counties as well,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, Infectious Disease Specialist UCSF.

San Francisco’s health department says the county got 5 patients from Imperial county last week.

Friday, 18 additional patients were brought in from outside counties, including Marin, where there’s been an outbreak at San Quentin prison.

Stanford is another hospital taking COVID-19 patients. It’s not known how many other Bay Area hospitals are doing the same.

Global Medical Response, which evacuated patients from a cruise ship docked in the Bay in March, also runs Reach Air Medical, which is transporting patients out of Imperial county.

“Before COVID, I think maybe we probably moved patients to northern California a dozen times a year. Post-COVID, we’re seeing it fairly more frequently, multiple times a month, sometimes multiple times a week,” according to Cardenas.

Bay Area hospitals have generally had a low caseload, but numbers are increasing. 

With out-of-county patients coming in for treatment, the numbers of beds could shrink quickly if there’s a post-holiday surge.

“The other area that I’m concerned about is that when patients come in they don’t typically leave in a week or a few days, when you have serious COVID, you stay there for a long time, like two or three weeks,” said Dr. Chin-Hong.

That could lead to cases stacking up.

But there’s light coming through the dark clouds. Doctor Chin-Hong says they’ve learned a lot more about treating this virus, and that’s lead to better care and an increase in the survival rate.