Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, April 7 @ 5:44 p.m. / Emergencies, Health, Infrastructure

Sutter Coast CEO Says Hospital 'Feeling Very Prepared' For Potential COVID-19 Surge

Sutter Coast Hospital CEO says hospital is prepared for COVID-19 surge. Photo: Andrew Goff

The CEO of Del Norte County’s hospital says he’s confident that it’s prepared for a surge in local COVID-19 cases.

Sutter Coast Hospital can expand its 49-bed capacity by an additional 20 beds, CEO Mitch Hanna told the Wild Rivers Outpost and KFUG Community News’s Paul Critz on Tuesday. The hospital has a total of about 17 ventilators, he said, including five regular ventilators, two for the operating room and 10 transport ventilators.

As a result of a decision about a month ago to cancel or postpone elective surgeries, resources such as masks, gowns and gloves, respirators and staff are able to concentrate on treating COVID-19 patients when they arrive, Hanna said.

“We have a well developed surge plan as part of Northern California’s critical health care infrastructure,” Hanna told the Outpost. “We’re working cooperatively with local and federal and state agencies. Our system has activated a 24-7 emergency response system, so we’re tied into that. We’re feeling very prepared.”

So far, Del Norte’s two confirmed COVID-19 cases have not required hospitalization, Hanna said. The first patient, identified on Thursday as a middle-aged man, is recovering at home.

The second patient is also recovering, according to a Facebook post from her cousin.

Meanwhile, in Del Norte County a total of 126 tests for COVID-19 have been administered as of 4:58 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Public Health Branch. The results for 120 tests have come back negative and four are pending.

According to Hanna, Sutter Coast Hospital is testing anyone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Staff are able to collect cultures from nasal cavities and throats, he said. However, though the hospital has the equipment to test for the virus, it doesn’t have the testing kits. Samples are sent to a Sutter Health central lab in the Bay Area, Hanna said.

“If we send it out by 10 a.m., we can get results by the next morning, which is a fairly quick turnaround,” he said, adding that the availability of testing kits comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As we get more kits in the system they may distribute those to us.”

In addition to being able to add 20 extras to its current roster of 49 beds, the hospital has set up a tent outside its emergency department to accommodate more patients.

Currently, the volume of patients at Sutter Coast has been lower than what it was roughly a month ago or what it would normally see this time of year, Hanna said. He attributed that to the community’s willingness to shelter in place.

Sutter facilities systemwide has seen lower health volumes too, Hanna said.

“As you may or may not know, I’m the CEO of Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital,” he told the Outpost. “Volumes there are roughly half of what they are.”

Hanna hesitated to give a fixed number of how many more patients the hospital could potentially see as a result of a surge. But if the hospital is stretched with more than it can handle, he said, it would transfer patients to other acute care facilities in the area and, potentially, farther away.

While hospital staff wait for a larger influx of COVID cases, they continue to serve patients with other illnesses, Hanna said. Moms still have their babies at Sutter Coast, he said, though elective cases aren’t happening right now.

Hanna also addressed a recent KCIW article stating that Curry Health Network is furloughing doctors and nurses.

“As for furloughing staff, we have not, nor do we have plans to do that right now,” he said. “In those departments where we have stopped taking elective cases — for instance, our physical therapy department —we’re redeployed those staff to other areas.”

In the hospital’s surgical area, which also works with elective cases primarily, staff are being trained to work in the emergency department or other medical surge units if the need arises, Hanna said.

“Rather than furlough staff or layoff staff, we have offered training and development to broaden their critical expertise in order for them to help manage the surge should it arrive,” he said.

Hanna urged Del Norte County residents to call Sutter’s COVID-19 hotline at 866-961-2889 for more information, noting they don’t have to be a Sutter patient. That hotline is available seven-days a week from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.


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