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El Camino Health CEO talks numbers, preparation as the area’s COVID-19 cases rise

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Two men approach a tent outside the El Camino Hospital emergency room Friday afternoon. Two tents have been erected to treat patients who are suffering from respiratory symptoms that could be related to coronavirus. 

Updated March 30 at approximately 11:30 a.m.

El Camino Health CEO Dan Woods is proud of his team’s preparation for a possible uptick in patient visits as the number of coronavirus cases climbs in Santa Clara County. Woods expressed optimism as the health-care system’s testing data hints that local residents are complying with the shelter-in-place order, and he told the Town Crier that the network’s Mountain View and Los Gatos hospitals are doing “just fine.”

Under control

According to Woods, the coronavirus crisis is not overrunning or inundating hospital staff’s capacity to serve. In fact, as of Friday (March 27), he said, 95% of patients being treated at El Camino Hospital’s campuses on a daily basis are not coronavirus patients. The hospital has chosen, like several others in the area, to cancel elective surgeries for two primary reasons: to break the chain of mass exposure and to brace for the possibility that enough people ignore the shelter-in-place order that the curve continues to rise.

“Everyone keeps talking about a potential surge. … We’re all kind of expanding and making room in the eventuality that a possible patient surge happens,” Woods said in a phone interview.

Thus far, El Camino Health has tested 300 people for COVID-19 between both hospitals. On average, 10% tested positive.

That’s in line with other area hospitals, said Woods, who speaks regularly these days with other local hospital administrators. On average, between 6% and 11% of those tested at any given hospital in the Bay Area test positive for the virus.

The turnaround time for test results improves with each day; for now, El Camino Hospital patients can rely on 12-24 hours. Woods said the majority of those who tested positive at the network’s hospitals have not required hospitalization and have been sent home and told to isolate from others.

El Camino Health has set up two tents outside each of its hospitals. The main emergency room door is for patients not experiencing respiratory-related symptoms but rather “typical broken bones, lacerations and classic abdominal pains,” Woods said. The tents, near an alternate entrance, are for those who are experiencing the symptoms associated with the coronavirus, who are then sent to what the hospitals call an “accelerated area.”

“If you have to go to the ER, you probably don’t want to sit next to COVID-19 patients,” Woods said. “Tents allow us to segregate these patients and expand the capacity. ... Well, the saying is, ‘You expect the worst but hope for the best.’”

Crunching the numbers

Woods said the hospitals run three different statistical models daily based on the experiences and numbers of what medical personnel are currently handling and anticipated service in the future. But even a well-structured model, with predicted demand tested against facility assets, employed assets and equipment, is just an educated guess. Woods noted that the hospitals’ purchasing department has been placing orders with suppliers ahead of time, so El Camino Hospital is one of the few that has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for those caring for contagious patients.

“We have gotten pretty close (to running out of) some supplies,” Woods said, adding assurances that the hospitals ordered enough ventilators ahead of time. “You really have to try to properly utilize the supplies you have. Believe it or not, human nature is to hoard things, but we’ve placed a restriction on how (PPE) is utilized and are forecasting ahead based on current supply inventory and usage.”

In fact, resources are solid enough that the health-care network identified two nurses with military backgrounds and dispatched them to the Santa Clara Convention Center today, a facility designated to serve as a federal field hospital with 248 beds for patients if and when nearby hospitals experience an overflow. The temporary setup came just one day after Kaiser Permanente San Jose hospital officials announced that more than half its current patients are being treated for symptoms of the coronavirus.

El Camino Health’s new director of communications Christopher Brown said the hospital is not considering a similar overflow setup at the old hospital building on the Mountain View campus.

“The old hospital patient rooms were taken out of commission approximately 10 years ago, and we are not recommending the reopening of this facility,” he said in an email to the Town Crier.

Woods described the outpouring of support hospital executives and staff have received from the community as “incredible.” But the best way residents can help, he said, is to follow the rules: Listen to health officers across California and stay home.

“The biggest influence on predicted demand for health-care services is dependent on sheltering in place,” Woods said. “If there’s high compliance (with the statewide order), we break the cycle of transmission. If there’s low compliance, we’re looking at another New York.”

For ongoing coronavirus coverage, follow the Town Crier on Facebook and Twitter.

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