While the city of Napa weighs possible COVID-19 safety adjustments to deal with a recent surge in new cases, the Napa City Council on Tuesday heard an update on the virus from Queen of the Valley Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Amy Herold.
Herold, who joined the meeting via Microsoft Teams, talked about stress the hospital is facing during the current surge in COVID-19 cases, caused predominately by the more infectious Delta variant.
Herold said the medical staff of the hospital are under fatigue after over a year of taking care of patients suffering from COVID-19, and that a lot of healthcare workers left the profession after the January surge. The hospital is also having a difficult time finding new nurses, she said.
“We are definitely feeling the pinch and that is impacting our emergency department,” Herold said. "We are seeing longer waits because we are short-staffed in every department.”
Herold said of the 15 people currently in her COVID-19 unit, three are fully vaccinated. The most recent surge has predominately been among people who are unvaccinated.
“This particular spike feels harder to us,” Herold said. “Though our numbers overall are lower, this feels more difficult to manage."
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Several nurses also spoke during public comment, elaborating on the stresses they’re facing and have been facing. Kim Butts, who works at the hospital, said the hospital has lost many experienced workers because of the stress of operating in the pandemic.
Leigh Glasgow, a shift lead who manages an intensive care unit, said she can’t support her staff in the way she needs to. She said the nurses hold their emotions in because they don’t want to burden their patients. She added that most COVID patients should be given one-to-one care, but the hospital doesn’t have enough staff to achieve that.
Glasgow said the bottom line is that the hospital isn’t able to recruit nurses at the moment and is facing severe staffing and stress issues as a result.
“Some days, we wonder how we’re going to make it through another day, yet we show up day in, day out,” Glasgow said. “All I can think about is I don’t know if I can do this again.”
Herold said she's seen the stress of Queen staff intensify in recent weeks.
“I saw tears in nurses’ eyes last week,” Herold said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen that.”
Herold added that those who come in to the emergency room with non-life-threatening conditions during peak hours, such as in the afternoon, may currently face a three to four hour wait time.
“The wait time just depends on how many people we’re holding, but I will say if you come in the morning, you’re much more likely to be seen quickly,” Herold said.
“This is hard news to take,” council member Liz Alessio said. “I think what I’m hearing is that this is touching everyone regardless of if you have COVID. If you have an accident, if your child has an accident, an illness, heart disease or cancer, that this can very well impact them from staying in their own local hospital.”
The city of Napa is considering adjustments in response to the recent surge in positive cases of the virus. Maintaining safety for city staff is particularly important, according to city manager Steve Potter, because the city is operating without approximately 20% of employees. The city is in the process of filling staff positions left vacant for budgetary reasons in 2020, but several of those positions have been difficult to hire for, according to Potter.
Potter first brought up possible safety adjustments at a City Council meeting early this month. He cited the growth in positive case numbers and said Napa County would be under the most restrictive purple tier of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, indicating COVID-19 transmission is “widespread,” if the system hadn’t been retired June 15. Previously, the color coded, tier-based system imposed safety restrictions that became more stringent the higher a county’s positive case rate was.
Potter said Tuesday the COVID-19 surge appears to be getting worse faster than it’s getting better. He said the city has been seeing more city employees test positive or have exposures to COVID-19, and recommended people continue to mask and social distance.
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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.