20200402-bc-mercy

Mercy Hospital Downtown.

Two Bakersfield hospitals have temporarily stopped offering elective medical procedures in order to remain responsive to more urgent cases as local COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise and push local medical centers toward to their physical limits.

The moves disclosed Tuesday by 144-bed Mercy Downtown and 78-bed Mercy Southwest are a reversal from early May, when local hospitals starved of revenues during the early days of the pandemic resumed elective procedures, which can include medically necessary surgeries such as cardiac catheterization.

Dignity Health, the San Francisco-based owner of both hospitals, said in a statement that health and safety remains its highest priorities and that the status of elective surgeries will be evaluated on a "day-to-day basis."

"Making this temporary change allows us to maintain the safety of our hospitals and dedicate our valuable resources to care for our most urgent needs, including our COVID-19 patients," the statement read. It urged local residents to "exercise extreme caution" and avoid large gatherings, wash hands, wear a mask in public, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick and avoid touching your face.

Local Dignity representatives would not say how close the hospital has come to reaching its maximum capacity for taking care of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization.

The president and CEO of the two Mercys' local sister hospital, 418-bed Bakersfield Memorial, also declined to provide figures indicating how near the medical center has come recently to reaching its maximum capacity for COVID-19 patients. He did say Monday, however, it was "close but we still have capacity."

"We're not turning folks away," he said.

Adventist Health Bakersfield similarly declined to say how close it was to COVID-19 capacity but said by email it had not found it necessary to stop offering elective procedures.

“We have plenty of staff and supplies to meet our current patient needs, including elective procedures,” a representative of the 254-bed hospital stated.

Data reported Tuesday evening by state government showed there were 211 COVID-19 patients in Kern County hospitals. That's a 154 percent jump from a month earlier.

Sixty of those 211 patients were listed in intensive care, which is nearly double the total listed a month ago.

The state said Kern has 85 intensive-care unit beds available to treat COVID-19 patients. That's three more than were available June 7.

Kern Medical CEO Russell Judd said Monday the hospital had 23 COVID-19 patients that morning and about a third of them were in ICU.

He said the hospital had 18 people in ICU Monday and that its total ICU capacity at the time was 24.

But like other hospitals, Kern Medical could adjust to handle additional critically ill COVID-19 patients if necessary, Judd said. In that "surge" scenario, he said, the hospital's capacity could expand to care for 34 ICU patients.

He said things are fine now but that the situation could worsen if the virus's local trajectory holds.

"What does keep us up a little bit at night is our steady growth" in COVID-19 cases, he said. "If we stay on this current path I am nervous come the middle of August. Now we’ve got a constant climb to where we may not potentially have enough intensive care beds in the community."

"We’re prepared," he said. "We can handle it now. We’re worried about the future, so please, we beg people to make sure they are practicing safe distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing."

Staff writer Stacey Shepard contributed to this report.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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