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COVID-19 wave prompts Las Vegas hospital to issue ‘disaster’ alert

With COVID-19 patients pushing hospitals across Southern Nevada to near capacity, one Las Vegas hospital issued a disaster declaration over the weekend.

St. Rose Dominican Hospital, San Martin campus, issued the declaration Saturday, when a surge in patients increased occupancy in its intensive care unit to 137 percent, according to an email obtained by the Review-Journal that was sent by the administration to hospital physicians.

The 147-bed hospital had a general occupancy of 121 percent as it treated 73 patients with COVID-19.

“As we experience a sustained increase in critically ill COVID-19 patients, key resources are in limited supply: hospital beds, ICU and health care staff,” hospital spokesman Gordon Absher said in response to questions about the declaration.

The disaster declaration comes as Las Vegas Valley hospitals brace for the full impact of the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays on hospitalization numbers.

The miles-long line of cars returning to coronavirus hot spot Southern California after New Year’s Eve made one hospital administrator consider how many Las Vegas hospitality and service industry workers might have been exposed to the virus over the holiday.

“The 200,000 guests that are estimated to have come to Las Vegas for the holiday period, what did they leave behind?” said Dr. Joe Corcoran.

He is the chief medical officer overseeing HCA Healthcare hospitals in Nevada and California, including the four Sunrise Health System hospitals in Las Vegas.

Disaster declaration

The disaster declaration at St. Rose Dominican, San Martin means that the “number of patients exceeds current resources and alternate care sites need to be made available,” Absher said in an email.

The hospital is taking steps to manage the situation, he said, “by suspending elective surgical procedures to preserve inpatient beds for our COVID patients.”

Post-operative recovery beds have been converted to ICU beds, and post-partum and surgery beds have been converted to inpatient beds.

“These efforts sometimes push us out of our standard nurse ratios, but we work to limit those as best we can with the resources available,” Absher said. “These guidelines will remain in place until patient volume no longer exceeds available resources.”

The other two area St. Rose hospitals have not issued disaster declarations but have similar patient volumes, he said.

“Under normal circumstances patients might be transferred to other facilities but in this unprecedented surge of COVID-19 patients, most other hospitals are experiencing very similar circumstances,” Absher said.

The Nevada Hospital Association said on its website Tuesday that the number of hospitalizations across the state is plateauing but that some hospitals continue to feel “significant strain.”

These hospitals are primarily in Southern Nevada, which has been experiencing its highest levels of hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic.

The association cautioned that the “full effects of the holiday season and other gatherings may not be fully realized for another several weeks.”

Across Southern Nevada, 92 percent of licensed beds, 83 percent of staffed beds and 80 percent of adult ICU beds are occupied, according to the association.

Hospital association data obtained from the governor’s office through a public records request shows that 13 of the county’s 17 acute-care hospitals reported reaching or exceeding the maximum capacity in their adult intensive care units for at least one day during the first half half of December.

A records request completed Monday indicates that Gov. Steve Sisolak’s staff had not received hospital-specific data after mid-December. The governor’s deputy general counsel, Jessica Diss, did not respond to a request for comment.

Will Nevada follow California?

Corcoran acknowledged that he is worried that Southern California, with its overwhelmed hospital system, could be a bellwether for Southern Nevada.

“In Southern California, there are hospitals that have gone through the exercise of preparing for ‘crisis of care’ standards, if they’re not there already,” Corcoran said.

Crisis of care, he explained, is a “very fancy way of saying rationing care.”

Southern Nevada has not had the sharp increase in hospitalizations that Southern California has experienced, Corcoran said, noting that “ours has been more gradual.”

Like counterparts across the county, hospitals in the Sunrise system have been full on some days, prompting the system to not only significantly curtail elective procedures but also to delay certain heart procedures and cancer treatments when possible.

“We’ve taken those beds and freed them up for for patients that need acute hospitalization,” Corcoran said.

Despite the plateau of the past few days, he remains concerned.

“I’m very, very anxious about what the next two weeks might look like,” Corcoran said. “And I hope that it doesn’t mirror the almost meteoric growth that they’re experiencing in Southern California right now.”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Michael Scott Davidson contributed to this report.

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