OC's emergency medical system 'may collapse' unless hospitals activate surge plans, health official says

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County's health care system has reached crisis mode, with people being told to cancel elective surgeries and hospitals implementing surge plans as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to soar.

In a letter sent to hospitals and ambulance providers earlier this week, the county's emergency medical services director, Dr. Carl Schultz, sounded the alarm.

"The health care system in Orange County is now in crisis resulting from an overwhelming increase in the number of COVID-infected patients," Schultz wrote. "Ambulance EMTs are waiting hours just to transfer patients from their vehicles to emergency departments.

"At the current rate of deterioration," he added, "the EMS system may collapse unless emergency directives are implemented now."

Among Schultz's requests, he asked medical centers to activate their surge plans, establish alternate-treatment areas within their emergency departments to expand capacity, and cancel all elective surgeries.

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At a briefing on Thursday, the director of the Orange County Health Care Agency announced that some non-critical COVID-19 patients will be admitted to the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa starting on Dec. 15.

"These are lower-acuity patients, meaning patients who have passed the critical stage in their hospitalization and they only need to be in the hospital for low-level care," Dr. Clayton Chau said.

In February, the federal government was considering Fairview as a site to house as many as 50 low-acuity patients. But after pushback from members of the local community, federal officials withdrew that request.

Orange County's ICU capacity stood at 11.3% as of Friday morning, according to an official county website.

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