Santa Maria hospital adapts as coronavirus cases rise in county

Triage+tents+stand+outside+the+entrance+to+the+Marian+Regional+Medical+Center+emergency+department+on+Thursday%2C+April+23%2C+2020+in+Santa+Maria%2C+Calif.+The+tents+are+vacant+but+are+available+for+a+potential+influx+of+patients+at+the+hospital.

Serena Guentz

Triage tents stand outside the entrance to the Marian Regional Medical Center emergency department on Thursday, April 23, 2020 in Santa Maria, Calif. The tents are vacant but are available for a potential influx of patients at the hospital.

Serena Guentz, Features Editor

As of Thursday there are  451 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County, with 116 cases in Santa Maria alone.

Since the beginning stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria has been preparing for a surge of patients infected with the novel coronavirus by making changes to operations and visitor guidelines.

Dr. Scott Robertson, chief physician executive for Dignity Health Central Coast, said some of these preparations Marian Medical Center made include postponing non-urgent surgeries and setting up a “warm zone” in the emergency department.

The hospital has also set up outdoor triage tents, but Robertson said they haven’t been used yet.

“We have retooled hospital rooms for patients who have not yet been diagnosed,” Robertson said, adding that patients are initially screened for symptoms and put into rooms in the warm zone if they do display possible COVID-19 symptoms. 

These patients are assumed to be positive and the warm zone is designed to allow them to remain isolated from other patients and prevent further spread of the virus within the hospital’s emergency department.

Marian Medical Center is currently licensed to care for 20 critical care patients, however the hospital has worked with the California Department of Public Health to expand its crisis capacity to care for over 50 critical care patients.

According to the hospital’s website, visitor guidelines have been limited to one visitor per patient in the pediatrics, neonatal intensive care unit, and labor and delivery units and visitors for end-of-life patients are “evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

“While we are taking these precautions to be compliant with federal, state, and local guidance, the health care and best interest of our patients and community remains our first priority,” hospital officials said in a press release.

Robertson also wanted to remind people that it’s still safe to go to the hospital for emergencies.

“It’s important for the public to know that if they’re having emergencies, [they need to] call 9-1-1,” Robertson said.

Many people have not been coming to the hospital even in true emergencies, Robertson said, out of fear that they could contract COVID-19 at the hospital, resulting in them possibly suffering heart attacks or strokes at home.

Robertson emphasized that hospitals have the proper infection control procedures in place to prevent the spread of the virus within the facility.

As the hospital staff continues to work hard to care for patients during the pandemic, many in the community have been showing their appreciation.

From McDonald’s offering free meals for healthcare workers to Santa Maria firefighters visiting Marian Medical Center last Friday to thank the staff and other community members donating food and supplies, there have been many ways the community is thanking these frontline workers.

“The staff is very grateful for the support from the community,” Robertson said. “It’s always great to hear thank you.”

 While Robertson said that he does not have an explanation for why there are more COVID-19 cases in north county, he did say that “even in northern county… the prevalence is low” compared to the rest of the country.

“It looks as though we have passed the peak date,” Robertson said, adding that the number of positive cases has been declining.

Robertson also said that Marian’s intensive care unit has been successful in treating patients with COVID-19. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has said 257 people in the county are considered to be fully recovered.

“We’re very grateful to be here when our community needs us,” Robertson said.