Holiday COVID surge pushes hospitals and ambulance crews to their breaking point

The holiday season has now manifested itself into California’s worst surge of new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and is forcing the state’s hospitals and ambulance crews to make life or death decisions on who to treat.

Video Transcript

TOYA SENIORS: Today's been really difficult. Today it's been probably one of the hardest things I've ever had here at Cedars. Um-- If you don't know, things are pretty bad. Things are really bad. We're overwhelmed. We're stressed. We're-- we're stretched so thin. It is pretty unimaginable


DR. NICOLE VAN GRONINGEN: We really are at a breaking point We are setting records every day in terms of how many patients we're caring for who have COVID-19. And as doctors and as nurses and hospital staff, we're not only tired because we're working harder than we ever have throughout this entire pandemic, but we're also worried that at some point soon we're going to have a really tough time finding the space and the staff to take care of all the sick patients coming in with COVID-19, who really need our help.


DR. SAM TOBATI: You know, places like ours uh-- we were already functioning above capacity many of the days. And so adding an additional stress of volume and complexity of different patients and adding significant acuity, expectedly was going to stress the system.

CHARLOTTE GUEVARRA: We are admitting patients faster than we discharge them.


SCOTT BRICKNER: I've never seen a healthcare system pushed to uh-- the level that we're at. Coming to work is just a constant-- um-- it's-- it's stressful to say the least. Uh-- when you have to motivate yourself mentally to be ready-- to just be ready for anything and know that you're going to be shortstaffed, your colleagues are going to be exhausted-- whether they be nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians-- and that you're just treading water.

DR. SAM TOBATI: Before COVID, you know, we always feared somebody walking in that was stabbed or shot-- that was our, sort of, worst nightmare. Now, we're seeing multiple people walking in barely breathing. And um-- they're walking into a very busy ER, and often, there's no space. And there are many days where you're-- you're just working super hard-- running-- basically taking care of one disaster and crisis after another


We were already beginning to think through um, you know, care allocation processes. These are things that we started thinking through at the beginning of the pandemic back in March and April and May and June. But then things calmed down, and we really didn't have to put a huge focus on it. But now we're having to, again. And so uh-- having the county also think through issues of resource management and appropriateness, I think is, appropriate. And the objective in a pandemic, in a crisis, is always to try to help as many people as possible and avoiding medical interventions and care that's medically ineffective.

You know, in medicine we always love heroics and we still believe in heroics. But right now, we just need to make sure that the heroic efforts that we may carry out for one individual doesn't end up hurting 10 others.

OLENA SVETLOV: If anything you can do this year for a New Year wish, do your magic. Just think about others. Think about your family. Think about your loved ones.

DR. SAM TOBATI: If people wear their masks, if they maintain social distancing if they don't gather, the likelihood of getting it goes away. And they could be safe. And they can go on to continue their work and live their lives-- again, not the same way as before-- but they can continue to enjoy life and live life. But if-- if they break the rules, then there's consequences.

Just follow these simple rules. You know, hang in there for another six months. Allow time for the vaccine to be provided and um-- readily available to the large population, and we'll get through this. Emergency physicians, you know, this is our calling. This is what we're trained for. This is what we do.