'Plea for help' from Redding's Mercy hospital due to COVID-19 surge brings National Guard
Members of the National Guard have arrived at Mercy Medical Center Redding to assist health care workers at the city's largest hospital as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients surges.
The 14 National Guard members — including medics and two managers — arrived last weekend and will remain for two weeks, with an extension possible depending on COVID-19 patient levels, said Christine McMurry, spokeswoman for the hospital's owner, Dignity Health.
The National Guard members will care for both regular patients and those with COVID-19, she said, because the hospital is so full.
A joint request by Mercy and Shasta Regional Medical Center was due to rising cases of COVID-19 patients at both hospitals, said McMurry.
Mercy made its first request to the Medical Health Operational Area Coordination Program for additional personnel on Aug. 24, followed by an escalated request on Sept. 24, according to McMurry.
"The Sept. 24 request was a plea for help" from both Mercy Redding and Shasta Regional Medical Center, she said. "Within the two hospitals, we've definitely seen a lot more COVID patients coming in."
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Adding to the facilities' capacity woes, the Fawn Fire had erupted just north of Redding on Sept. 22. About 30 medical workers at Mercy were out due to the wildfire, which in a week burned 8,578 acres, destroyed 185 structures and caused hundreds of residents to evacuate. Now, most have returned.
Another driver of the request SOS was staff fatigue, said McMurry, given widespread staff burnout among Mercy's workers due to the amount of overtime they were being required to put in.
"They're working multiple 18-hour shifts, just to simply to cover the volumes up there," McMurry said.
In addition, she said, the situation in Redding is "unique" compared to other medical facilities in the region.
"We are the Level 2 trauma hospital for 30,000 square miles in Northern California. So, we just didn't want it to get to a place where it was so bad. You have to try to plan ahead," she said.
At Shasta Regional, travel nurses have been in use for some time because of longstanding staff shortages.
Shasta Regional spokeswoman Lynnann Foster said Friday that no National Guard members have been deployed to the hospital and no requests for assistance with staffing are planned.
She said that 75% of the hospital’s medical staff is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in keeping with a new state mandate for health care workers to be vaccinated. The remaining 25% of the hospital's staff have been granted medical or religious exemptions or have an exemption application that’s under review, she said.
"The mandate is if you have an exemption, you just have to get tested twice a week and that's what our staff is doing. No one's in violation of anything," said Foster.
Of the hospital's 900-member staff, about 230 have requested a vaccine exemption or have an exemption request under review, said Foster. That includes “14 people that we haven’t been able to be in contact with yet,” and may be out on leave or vacation, she said.
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Michele Chandler covers city government and housing issues for the Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. Follow her on Twitter at @MChandler_RS, call her at 530-225-8344 or email her at email@example.com. Please support our entire newsroom's commitment to public service journalism by subscribing today.