Barstow Community Hospital faces dire situation, several nurses sick with COVID-19

BARSTOW, Calif. (KABC) -- As COVID-19 cases surge across Southern California, hospitals are feeling the pain in a variety of ways. In the Inland Empire, as nurses at one hospital are preparing to go out on strike, another hospital is at nearly twice its capacity.

A nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Eyewitness News that the situation at Barstow Community Hospital is dire, with several nurses sick with COVID-19 and several others physically and emotionally drained from the pandemic.

"It's bad. We are totally overwhelmed and about to collapse. We need more help and we're not getting it," said the unidentified nurse.

Barstow Community Hospital is a 30-bed facility. But interim CEO Suzanne Richards told Eyewitness News that the hospital is currently treating 54 patients, 47 of whom have COVID-19. Its ICU is treating 16 patients, but has only four regular beds.

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With many intensive care units already at maximum capacity in the Inland Empire, doctors are warning that an increase in cases after Christmas and New Year's could be catastrophic.

The Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency is prioritizing staffing requests placed with the California Department of Public Health, and Barstow Community Hospital is currently their top priority. They've supplied the hospital with at least eight additional ventilators.

Meanwhile, nurses with SEIU 121 RN have called for a 10-day strike at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Los Angeles and Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside.

"The nurses are stretched thin," said nurse April Scolari who has worked at Riverside Community Hospital for five years. "We don't have adequate staffing to allow us to not go out of ratio; we don't have adequate staffing to allow us to get a rest break, nor the things we need as nurses because our mental health and fatigue is already taking a toll."

Nurses have cited a lack of proper personal protective equipment as one main reason for the strike, which is scheduled to begin on Dec. 24.

HCA HealthCare, which operates the three hospitals where strikes are planned, said the strike will simply add to the demands of an already overburdened health care system in Southern California.

"Given the current COVID-19 surge and the national nursing shortage, it is unconscionable that the union would urge nurses to abandon the bedside, and ask them to sacrifice wages from several lost shifts," said Antonio Castelan, a spokesperson for HCA Healthcare. "It is also surprising that SEIU 121 RN would take an action that may endanger patients, a decision that their own constitution and bylaws state they should make every effort to avoid."

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Bay Area nurses are expressing concern over an ICU training plan announced By Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, which would give nurses a 2-day crash course before sending them to work in intensive care units.

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