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'We're At A Breaking Point;' COVID Ambulance Diversons Becoming Common In Santa Clara County

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- There is more evidence of the growing strain on hospitals in Santa Clara County as multiple hospitals intermittently divert ambulance calls because of capacity concerns.

On Thursday, one ambulance after another arrived at El Camino Hospital, not to hurry patients in for care, but to ferry handfuls of them out to other facilities.

In the words of an El Camino spokesman, Wednesday was a "very busy day" here. It was so busy that the hospital was put on diversion for a period of time on Wednesday.

In a statement, Santa Clara County told KPIX that, on Wednesday, "We are seeing emergency rooms unable to accept inbound patients arriving via ambulance at many hospitals throughout the county, requiring diversion of ambulances to other hospitals."

"I'm saddened and sorry," said Janet Coffman, a professor of health policy at UCSF. "But I'm not surprised that even hospitals like El Camino, which aren't major trauma centers or places like San Francisco General or Valley Medical Center, have to go on diversion from time to time or on weekends. We're at a breaking point."

Coffman says hospitals are facing multiple challenges when it comes to staying fully staffed. For weeks now, health officials in the county had warned that staffing would be the first stress point in hospitals.

"Our hospitals are at the brink, and they are just on the verge of being pushed over," said county Director of Health Preparedness Dr. Ahmad Kamal on Wednesday.

Just as El Camino went on diversion, Kamal and other county health officials were pleading for people to cancel gatherings and travel plans.

"We cannot emphasize enough that this is a matter of life and death," warned Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody.

So with hospitals already diverting patients, and struggling to meet staffing demands, another surge would require even more adjustments.

"I think there's also going to be a fair amount of screening people," says Coffman. "And trying to be as judicious as possible as to who really needs to be seen in the ED, who needs to be admitted to the hospital, and to the ICU. There are going to be some really tough choices to be made."

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