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Military Support Teams Leave California Hospitals Despite High COVID-19 Numbers



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California is losing five of the eight military support teams helping hospitals through some of the most challenging times during the pandemic.

This, despite White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx calling out the Central Valley as a COVID-19 hot spot earlier this month.

Visalia’s team of 21 is leaving Kaweah Delta Medical Center on Saturday. The hospital hosted a small celebration for the team Thursday afternoon. Tulare County remains on the state monitoring list with a 13.3% COVID-19 positivity rate Thursday.

Elsewhere, teams at CRMC, Adventist Health Hanford, and Lodi Memorial will stay through September 11.

The other teams are leaving their respective hospitals on Saturday.

Kaweah Delta Medical Center Team

Since mid-July, the team, mostly from Travis Air Force Base, has been assisting at Kaweah Delta. The team’s arrival happened at a time when COVID numbers were on the rise and more than 70 staff members were on quarantine, which made staffing hospital beds a challenge.

As of this week, 57 staff members are in quarantine. Kaweah Delta’s solutions to staffing challenges include incentivizing clinical staff to work additional shifts, hiring additional clinical staff, and hiring more student nurse interns. Additionally, Kaweah Delta has registered nurses to the bedside who traditionally work in other departments.

Hospital staff and leadership gave the team a roaring send-off Thursday. The tribute included a red carpet, clapping for the military team, an awards ceremony, and a lights-and-sirens tribute by Visalia first responders.

Red carpet sendoff for military support team outside the doors of Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

GV Wire℠ asked Chief Nursing Officer Keri Noeske if she was surprised the team was leaving when coronavirus cases were still very high in her county.
“It’s not surprising because our situation has stabilized as far as in the hospital. While we still have positive cases in the county, that positivity rate is going down,” Noeske said. She went on to say the hospital didn’t ask for an extension because it has enough staff to handle the numbers of patients they’re seeing.

Hospital security officers salute military support team. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Visalia first responders give lights-and-sirens tribute to the military support team. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Adventist Health Hanford Team

Adventist Health Hanford requested and was granted a two-week extension of its 20-person team Thursday.

The DoD team arrived on July 22 for a 30-day stint. It will remain through Sept. 11. Kings County remains on the state’s watch list with a positivity rate of 12.8%. State guidelines call for the rate to be below 8%.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Brigid Serafin, a nurse supporting COVID Theater Hospital-1, ensures that a piece of medical equipment is functioning correctly while caring for a patient at Adventist Health Hanford, Hanford, California, July 27, 2020. Serafin is a member of a medical support team deployed from the 60th Medical Group, Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Army/Maj. Doug Halleaux)

Community Regional Medical Center

CRMC’s workforce remains impacted by COVID-19. As of Thursday afternoon, 104 workers were out with coronavirus or in self-quarantine.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Raquel Dixon, registered nurse, 60th Medical Group, provides patient care at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno,  Aug. 4, 2020. (MI Army National Guard/Spc. Aaron Good)

Fresno County EMS Director Daniel Lynch told GV Wire℠ in an email Thursday morning: “It was just confirmed that the DOD team at CRMC has been approved through September 11, 2020.”

According to the state dashboard, Fresno County has a COVID-19 positivity rate of 11.1% and remains on the state monitoring list.

St. Agnes Medical Center

Lynch had tried getting a military support team to St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno but was unsuccessful.

However, the state had enough resources to help fill staffing gaps at the hospital.

“They provided 8 staff members, including 7 nurses and 1 respiratory therapist,” St. Agnes director of corporate communications Kelley Sanchez told GV Wire℠ by email.