October 18, 2021

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Hospitals Waived Staffing Limits For Nurses (San Diego News Now)

An inewsource-KPBS investigation found that hospitals in San Diego County and around the state received waivers around the holidays that allowed nurses to take on an extra load of patients. But many of those facilities failed to show that they exhausted all other alternatives before given the waivers. Meanwhile, there’s new information out about Tuesday’s deadly crash in Imperial County. Also, the latest on the status of this year’s Latino Film Festival.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Thursday, March 4th.

A closer look at how hospitals waived limits on how many patients nurses could care for.

We’ll have that just after the headlines.

People with vaccination appointments for second doses will be prioritized at San Diego County vaccination sites as a vaccine shortage persists, the county announced Wednesday.

The shortage is being caused by a delay in Moderna shipments due to bad weather in the U.S. a few weeks ago, as well as an ongoing shortage of the Pfizer vaccine.

A San Diego Superior Court judge Wednesday denied a request from restaurants and gyms seeking to reopen indoor business operations at 25% capacity. Businesses allege that restaurants and gyms account for a small percent of covid-19 cases, but have been unduly penalized. They also allege that restrictions on businesses have driven people to gather at home where proper precautions are not taken. The judge rejected both arguments.

An investigation is underway into the health care company One Medical over reports that it gave vaccines to people who were not eligible to receive them. That’s according to the city news service. One Medical is based in San Francisco, but it does business in Carlsbad, downtown San Diego and La Jolla. The company denies the allegations.

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Hospitalizations from the coronavirus in California skyrocketed around the holidays. And when staffing couldn’t keep up…the state let hospitals put more patients on a nurse’s workload than law usually allows. In the first of a two-part series… KPBS Health Reporter Tarryn Mento tells us how nurses felt pushed to the brink by the move and questioned whether it was even necessary.

It’s been a long year for nurse George Santiago.
“If you have to respond to multiple code blues in one shift, that really drains you”
Santiago’s job is to rush toward those calls as a rapid response nurse at Palomar Medical Center Escondido. And he carries the extra burden of often being a patient’s last contact.
“i’m picturing myself, if this was my family member and there’s nothing that I can do and you know yeah the desperation, the hopelessness, that’s, that is what kinda, uh, that’s what kind of kills you”
The weight grew heavy during the late 2020 surge. Palomar received state permission to stray from a landmark law that limits the amount of patients under a nurse’s care. Staff could now be asked to take on one to two additional patients.
Here why don’t you carry this pile of bricks while you’re treading water — you know that’s the equivalent.
Palomar is one of more than 200 California facilities that received temporary staffing waivers during the pandemic. Governor Gavin Newsom expedited the waiver process when COVID-19 patients skyrocketed late last year but staffing didn’t.
“Just stretching resources. Again empathy and respect to those human beings — these frontline healthcare workers, these nurses particularly who are just doing heroic work every single day, asking yet again for a little bit more during these very challenging, challenging next few weeks.”
The state health department declined an interview but said in an email waivers should be a last resort. The waiver application says hospitals should exhaust alternatives before seeking one, but the state said in its email that facilities actually don’t need to. And a KPBS/inewsource analysis of publicly posted waivers found dozens of approved facilities didn’t document they attempted listed alternatives before seeking the waiver.
“The process is easy. The process can be approved in as little as eight hours, and then, there ya go.”
Stephanie Roberson leads government relations for California Nurses United. She says under the expedited process, a staffing waiver could be granted in less than a day. The union has protested against the waivers, including at Palomar. Roberson says they’ve successfully contested 3 of the at least 43 waivers that have been rescinded in the state.
“The ones that have been rescinded are because we’re seeing on the ground, we’re looking at your form and number 1 you haven’t checked any of the remedies.”
The application form asks hospitals what other options they tried. That includes transferring patients to other beds, rescheduling elective procedures and possibly setting up clinics for non-emergency cases. The KPBS/inewsource review found about half of approved hospitals didn’t report they tried all options, including some in San Diego.
“To be quite frank, it’s just a formality.”
Most local facilities that received waivers declined or ignored requests for interviews. But Santiago says the waiver didn’t need to happen at Palomar. The facility laid off more than 300 staffers when patient tallies dropped last April.
Most of them we can’t get back now because they’re not going to hang around they’re going to look for other sources of income
Applications ask if hospitals experienced layoffs within the last two months. The Palomar layoffs were several months before Santiago says the Escondido facility applied. However the details of its application are not posted on the state’s website, but Santiago says the Escondido facility did not cancel elective procedures before getting its waiver.
“Which was even more difficult for the recovery room nurses because they had their load of people recovering for surgery — from surgery and then they had to handle you know COVID patients too.”
Santiago says the union filed a grievance because Palomar didn’t communicate with them before getting a waiver. Palomar refused requests for an interview. But a spokesman previously said claims of unsafe working conditions were inaccurate — calling them appalling and irresponsible. All expedited waivers were due to expire last month but at least 84 hospitals received extensions until the state provides additional staffing resources.
Coming up tomorrow… a local hospital shares why they needed a waiver.
we had over 500 patients within our hospitals with COVID that’s five times more than what we had earlier in the year.
That’s in part-two. Tarryn Mento. KPBS News.

And that was KPBS Health reporter Tarryn Mento. This story was co-reported by inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano. inewsource is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.

There’s new information out on tuesday’s deadly crash in Imperial County that took more than a dozen lives…Kpbs reporter matt hoffman has the latest.

Federal officials say an SUV packed with 25 people collided with a semi truck, and prior to that it came through a hole in the US-Mexico border barrier, about thirty miles from the crash
Border patrol officials say they have surveillance video showing the SUV and another vehicle illegally entering the country..
Agents arrested the occupants of the other vehicle, and say no one was pursuing the SUV before it crashed near El Centro.. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say this is now a human smuggling investigation..
Twelve people including the driver who the CHP says is from Mexicali died at the scene.. The semi truck driver had moderate injuries and one other person died at a nearby hospital.. while survivors with the worst trauma were airlifted to San Diego
A Federal team from the National transportation safety board is also investigating the crash.. And a CHP spokesperson says at this point the semi truck driver is not suspected of any wrongdoing.. Matt Hoffman, KPBS News

That was KPBS’ Matt Hoffman.

Although Legoland remains closed, Feeding San Diego got good use of their parking lot for a food distribution event on Wednesday. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne has the details.

Even through Wednesday’s rain, volunteers with Feeding San Diego distributed food to North County households.
Legoland president, Kurt Stocks, offered the park’s empty parking lot for the food distribution to help his company’s employees and the community.
Kurt Stocks/ President of LEGOLAND California Resort (41:40- 41:50)
“We actually reached out to Feeding San Diego initially because we wanted to do something for our own staff. We’ve got over 1000 staff that have been on furlough for the best part of 12 months now.”
Even as the vaccines roll out and people return to work, Feeding San Diego says they have seen a 50% increase in people facing hunger in San Diego County.
The organization will continue holding food distributions through the county.
Reporting from Carlsbad, I’m Tania Thorne, KPBS News.

That was KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne .

Coming up….the covid-19 lockdowns last year hit right on the opening day of the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Last year the 27th annual Latino film festival had to cancel its in-person event on its opening day. That was following governor Gavin Newsome’s ban on large public gatherings. It was the first San Diego festival to have to cancel because of COVID-19. KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando spoke with the festival’s founder and executive director, Ethan Von Tilo about the past year and the upcoming 28th Latino film festival.

And that was Ethan Von Tilo, founder and executive director of the Latino Film Festival.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.