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Department of Defense teams are deploying to hospitals in Fresno, Visalia, and Hanford this week to help fight a surge of COVID-19 cases.

The 20-person teams are on month-long missions to help hospitals maximize their available bed space as case counts push the facilities to capacity.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials, approximately 740 Department of Defense medical and support professionals from the Army, Navy, and Air Force deployed to support COVID-19 operations in Texas and California.

“These are specialty groups that are just badly needed in the hospitals. One of the big things is, it does solidify capacity at the facility, which is a great thing.”Fresno County EMS Director Daniel Lynch

“We are committed to assisting those in need as part of the ongoing whole-of-America response to COVID-19,” said Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, U.S. Army North commander. “At the same time, we remain flexible and capable of providing other defense support to civil authorities as necessary.”

Approximately 160 Air Force medical and support personnel have been sent to California.

Community Medical Regional Center

CRMC will receive a team Thursday morning.

Fresno County EMS Director Daniel Lynch confirmed the team’s arrival during a zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “These are specialty groups that are just badly needed in the hospitals,” said Lynch. “One of the big things is, it does solidify capacity at the facility, which is a great thing.”

The military team is will serve a 30-day deployment in Fresno with the ability to extend for another 30 days if necessary.

The county health department is also working to assist hospitals with the current surge of patients. According to California’s statewide COVID tracking dashboard, Fresno County has seen an almost 58% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past two weeks and 80% of ICU beds in the county are in use.

Interim county health officer Dr. Rais Vohra says despite this teams’ arrival, the county is still preparing for the activation of the Fresno Convention Center as a field hospital to provide extra bed space. “We talked to a staffing agency yesterday, we’re exploring the different staffing models because we want to be ready whenever our hospitals need us to be ready,” Vohra said.

U.S. Army Capt. Madeleine Lovejoy, left, a critical care nurse, learns discharge procedures from a staff member at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Military medical teams are arriving this week to assist staff at several Valley hospitals treat a surge of COVID-19 patients. (U.S. Army/Maj. Loni R. Ayers)

The closest operating overflow center is in Porterville, where about 12 patients are being treated. The facility can hold up to 50 COVID-19 patients, and Lynch said several who have been treated there have already been allowed to return home.

Visalia’s Kaweah Delta

As the number of COVID-19 patients being cared for at Kaweah Delta Medical Center reached an all-time high of 68 patients on Tuesday, the hospital’s chief executive officer invited the military to lend a hand.

The team is due to arrive there Thursday, hospital spokesperson Laura Florez-McCusker said.

Kaweah Delta has accepted the U.S. Department of Defense’s offer to send a team of 20 military healthcare workers – most from Travis Air Force Base – to assist the Visalia hospital with caring for COVID-19 patients, according to a news release.

This military team — comprised of three critical care physicians, 13 critical care registered nurses, two respiratory therapists, and two advanced practice providers —  will be deployed to Kaweah Delta’s 21-bed intensive care unit. The assignment there will be to care for 6-8 patients under the direction of Kaweah Delta’s clinical leadership team.

“It’s kind of sending in the cavalry, so to speak, with respect to being able to provide us with some much needed additional staffing,” CEO Gary Herbst said, noting that the hospital is running at 91% occupancy. “We have the ability to move patients around and we could probably create additional capacity to care for COVID-19 patients, but the challenge is being able to staff those beds.”

Hanford’s Adventist Health

Adventist Health Hanford is also welcoming a clinical team from the Department of Defense to support physicians and nurses caring for COVID patients.

In an emailed statement to GV Wire℠ the hospital said, “As the sole hospital serving Kings County, Adventist Health Hanford is welcoming a clinical team from the Department of Defense to provide additional capacity to support our physicians and nurses caring for our COVID-19 patients. The Department of Defense Medical Teams comprise clinical professionals – doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists – that will offer additional resources during the surge. They will also offer relief for our medical professionals who have been on the front lines serving patients throughout our COVID-19 response.”

The team is expected to begin caring for patients on Friday.

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