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Local hospitals resort to postponing elective procedures to save room for coronavirus patients

Some Kern County hospitals have responded to the recent increase in local COVID-19 cases by postponing non-emergency medical procedures as a way of ensuring space and resources remain available to treat patients sick with the virus.

Other medical centers that have not taken that step said it’s possible they will soon do so if case rates continue to escalate.

Adventist Health said a high number of COVID-19 patients at its hospitals in Bakersfield and Tehachapi has forced it to reduce its volume of certain types of surgeries and procedures, including those requiring admission or patient observation. The change, put into effect Monday for a two-week trial period, does not affect urgent and emergency cases.

The move to limit so-called elective medical procedures is considered a drastic step first taken locally in the summer of 2020 in response to a surge in local COVID-19 cases. Considerations of resuming postponements reflects heightened concern among Kern medical professionals that the virus is again spiraling out of control.

Elective procedures range widely and may include medically necessary surgeries that can be delayed but not indefinitely. No local medical centers have reported halting all surgeries.

Kern Medical said that on Monday it resumed its earlier practice of every day reviewing its schedule of upcoming surgeries “to ensure we have appropriate space, staff and supplies given the recent increase in Covid hospitalizations.”

Spokeswoman Sally Selby said by email no procedures have had to be postponed at the hospital recently, and the hope is that won’t become necessary.

“As long as Kern Medical has the appropriate space, staff and supplies so that it is safe, surgeries should move forward,” she wrote.

Dignity Health, owner of hospitals Bakersfield Memorial, Mercy Downtown and Mercy Southwest, informed surgeons Monday that elective and non-urgent procedures were being postponed because of a surge in COVID-19 patients and a staffing shortfall.

“It is a situation that is evaluated on a day-to-day basis,” Dignity spokeswoman Jessica Neeley said by email Tuesday.

Clinica Sierra Vista has made no changes in response to the increase in COVID-19 cases, spokesman Tim Calahan said by email. But he said there is an increased push to get more people vaccinated, and “for sure” more people are getting tested for the virus.

A spokeswoman at the California Hospital Association said the organization is unaware of any medical centers in the state making the “difficult decision to postpone elective procedures.” Nor has the state indicated a need for it, spokeswoman Jan Emerson-Shea said by email.

“I can tell you that postponing elective procedures is a last-resort option that we hope doesn’t become necessary, but we will have to see what happens in COVID-19 cases being driven by the Delta variant,” she wrote.

The average number of new coronavirus cases in Kern County during the last two weeks, 22.3 per 100,000 residents per day, is at its highest since February, Kern County Public Health Services reported Tuesday.

Still more troubling is that the rate is climbing: Two weeks ago, the rate was a third of the average lately — just 6.6 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.

Adventist spokeswoman Megan Simpson said by email more than 90 percent of its COVID-19 patients, through the first week of August, were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.

“We urge our community members to get vaccinated to reduce the risk or hospitalization and to save lives,” she wrote.

Editor's note: This story has been amended to reflect Dignity's email to surgeons Monday.