Ventura County hospitals adding storage space for bodies as COVID deaths climb

VENTURA, Calif. (KABC) -- Hospitals In Ventura County are feeling the impact of the post-holiday surge. Nearly 3,300 new cases were reported Monday, and more than 430 people are currently hospitalized, with 83 people in the ICU.

The county also reported another 17 deaths Monday. On Friday, the county announced 24 COVID-19 related deaths.

As the cases and deaths climbs -- there's a grim reality -- some hospitals are adding storage space for bodies.

"I can only imagine that we will not be slowing down anytime soon," said Dr. Raj Bhatia, the director of critical care at St. John's Regional Medical Center.

MORE: COVID surge leaves Ventura County hospitals near capacity
EMBED More News Videos

Ventura County is dealing with a holiday surge. The eight-hospital system is near capacity with nearly 1,000 patients -- and nearly half of them are infected with COVID-19.

Health experts throughout Ventura County are gearing up for even more COVID cases.

"We are only 11 days out from New Years and 17 days out from Christmas. There is still a chance we are going to see an increased number of patients come into the ERs and would require in-patient hospital care," said Dr. Todd Flosi, the chief medical officer at Ventura County Medical Center.

Ventura County Medical Center doctors say back-up plans are now being implemented in case the morgue runs out of space.

"We've actually added extra storage space just in case we start to have more bodies that we are unable to move off to a funeral home or a mortuary," Flosi said.

MORE: Overflowing LA hospitals place patients in gift shops, conference rooms
EMBED More News Videos

Some hospitals in Los Angeles County are so packed with COVID-19 patients, they're resorting to placing patients in conference rooms or even gift shops.

VCMC and Santa Paula hospital share a morgue that fits seven bodies, but with extra storage, it could potentially hold 12 to 36 more. Health care workers say they have not had to use it just yet.

St. John's Regional Medical Center has also not had to rely on extra storage space yet, but bed capacity inside the hospital is running extremely low.

"The ICUs are busy. We are a 20 bed ICU and we have 20 patients in there. We have ICU patients holding in the ER, and the ICU is full, but we keep making beds for them as patients get stable they get transferred to a lower level of care, and then we are able to bring the patients from the ER up to ICU," Bhatia said.

It's a similar situation in all eight Ventura County hospitals. St. John's brought in traveling nurses to help with staffing issues. Meantime, VCMC is utilizing its old hospital space.

"We now have 15 patients housed in that overflow of space, and we are looking to expand that once we have more nursing and other staff available," Flosi said.

Ventura County is also trying to get out more vaccines and are looking for volunteers who can help at vaccination sites.

CA COVID-19 vaccine tracker: See your status here

Having trouble loading the tracker above? Click here to open it in a new window.

MORE: Medical troops arrive to assist SoCal hospitals amid surge
EMBED More News Videos

Medical troops are joining the frontlines to help the strained SoCal health care system care for coronavirus patients.

MORE: 'They just die.' OC nurse describes heartbreaking scenes from COVID unit
EMBED More News Videos

"They fight every day and they struggle to breathe every day even with tons of oxygen. And then you just see them die. They just die," said a COVID unit nurse from the city of Orange.

Copyright © 2022 KABC Television, LLC. All rights reserved.