In his 30 years of hospital administration, Bruce Peters has seen nothing like it.
The president and CEO of Mercy Downtown and Mercy Southwest hospitals said an increase in regular hospital admissions and a growing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has resulted in the two hospitals being jampacked — beyond capacity in some cases.
"This is the most unique, most stressful situation I’ve ever faced," Peters said. "There’s just been nothing like it prior to this in my personal work history. It’s very unusual."
But, he said: "We always do what we have to do. Somehow we make it work. But it’s always a day by day, hour by hour, shift by shift thing."
And the same appears to be true at Bakersfield's other major hospitals.
On Monday, Kern Medical was overcapacity for adult patients, said CEO Russel Judd. The hospital has opened a second emergency room in another part of the hospital to handle the influx. And it's holding patients there when no beds are available for them on other floors.
"For us as hospital operators, this is a time of vigilance and focus," Judd said. "It’s definitely not normal, it’s busy and we’ve got to be very diligent and focused on the care we provide our patients."
Last month, Kern Medical saw a 20 percent growth over its typical number of patients seen in the hospital and clinics, growth that Judd called "very significant."
Both Peters and Judd were unsure why non-COVID-19 hospitalizations were rising other than to speculate it has to do with patients delaying care during earlier parts of the virus outbreak.
Adventist Health Bakersfield said in a statement that is has transferred some patients to other hospitals locally or throughout its multistate group to address its own capacity issues.
"We continue to experience the surge of patients previously predicted as a result of COVID-19," the statement said. "... Our numbers are steady; we are still seeing the same volume, but our transfers are helping to provide the needed capacity."
Peters, of Mercy hospitals, said he received word Monday the state is sending in a strike team of health care workers to assist his two facilities' emergency departments for 72 hours. Similar teams had arrived late last week at Adventist Health Bakersfield, Adventist Health Delano Regional Medical Center and Kern Medical.
Separately, the county has arranged a contract to bring in additional ICU nurses, who are specialized in the type of care they provide and typically are harder to find. And Peters said he continues to work his own resources to find traveler nurses and extra help. At this point, it's primarily to give his staff a break.
"A lot of staff are working overtime and extra shifts and I’m worried about them," Peters said. "This looks like something we’re going to be in for the long haul."