Surges in COVID-19 cases linked to holiday gatherings are overwhelming Valley hospitals to the point of possibly rationing care and causing a shortage of space to store corpses.

“It is real. Every day, I can tell you I’ve watched somebody die from COVID. … Once a patient is on a ventilator, the chances of them recovering are not good,” Yolanda Tominac, an ICU nurse at West Hills Hospital and member of the SEIU 121 RN union, told the Business Journal. “We’re being honest with our families, when they have to make a decision about having to intubate a patient – their grandmother or grandfather, uncle – (pulmonary critical care doctors) tell them that there’s a 70 percent chance that they’re going to die.”


West Hills Hospital has not gotten to the point of rationing care, Tominac said. But the facility has a refrigerated truck to store corpses while local mortuaries struggle to keep up with the spike in COVID victims.


“We are caring for more COVID-19 patients and are very close to capacity,” West Hills Hospital said in an email to the Business Journal. “Our team continues to work with the Los Angeles Public Health Department and other county agencies to balance our resources and continue to provide care. … Now, more than ever, we are asking everyone in the San Fernando Valley to help our frontline workers and others who are diligently working hard and putting themselves at risk to care for COVID-19 patients. The situation is dire and we are urging people to stay safe by staying home as much as possible, continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing.”


A representative of Providence Health and Services said the health care system’s Valley locations have been using temporary morgues as well, in partnership with mortuaries in locations that have been overwhelmed. Specific locations were not given out of respect for patients and their families.


The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health on Sunday said COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to increase, putting just under 8,000 people in the hospital with 20 percent of those patients in intensive care units.


“The anticipated surge from the winter holiday gatherings has begun. And tens upon tens of thousands of people are paying the price with new COVID-19 infections,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.


“We must be better prepared to address future pandemics and other public health crises. That starts with listening to nurses who are on the front lines of patient care,” SEIU Local 121 RN, Southern California’s registered nurse union, said in an email to the Business Journal. “Back in September, we publicly released our own pandemic safety guidelines — we urged our hospitals to consider these recommendations to better deal with the pandemic, which they were woefully unprepared for. That lack of preparation, and an ongoing failure to catch up, has exacerbated the current crisis. Though the pandemic has worsened, the same issues we urged hospitals to take on then are just as relevant now.”


A document circulated among doctors at four L.A. County-run hospitals and obtained by the Los Angeles Times suggested workers shift from saving every life to saving as many patients as possible; those less likely to survive would not get the same kind of care.


“Some compromise of standard of care is unavoidable; it is not that an entity, system or locale chooses to limit resources, it is that the resources are clearly not available to provide care in a regular manner,” the document stated.