California activates Palomar Medical Center's federal medical station as ICU capacity is strained

Posted at 2:14 PM, Dec 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 02:12:21-05

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state is activating the federal medical station at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, while ICU bed capacity is strained in several regions.

It wasn't immediately clear when the medical station could begin accepting patients.

"We are bringing a fifth alternative care site out of warm status, we're standing up that site, an FMS site, down in San Diego," Newsom said during an online press conference on Wednesday.


During a Wednesday press conference, Chris Van Gorder, CEO of Scripps Health, said that San Diego County is not all that far from running short of ICU beds and staffing is a significant issue.

"The reality is, we're facing a significant situation here with our capacity and it's made worse because back in the summer, the spring and summer, it was a regional situation and not a national situation. So back then, we could get traveling nurses, we could get registry nurses, we could hire more nurses locally," Van Gorder said. "Today, this is a national situation and we cannot recruit travelers, we cannot recruit registry nurses, and unfortunately, a number of our healthcare providers are also getting sick."

Van Gorder said the county has 24 staffed ICU beds left, out of about 670 available. He added that as hospitals get full and resources are strained, the type of care for anyone needing hospital care will change to crisis care.

The top two floors of the Escondido hospital have been set up to serve as an FMS site. The site includes 202 beds that can be used for patients that don't require ICU care. The site could take in patients from other county hospitals that become overwhelmed, Dr. Omar Khawaja, the Chief Medical Officer for Palomar Health, told ABC 10News a few weeks ago.

"It could be beds that we would offload some of the less sick patients from other systems into there so they can handle the sicker patients; we don’t have a solid plan for it yet," he said.

California's cumulative ICU bed capacity hit 1.1% on Wednesday, with the Southern California region at 0%. Three other regions were also under the state's regional stay-at-home orders activated after a region dips under 15% ICU capacity.

San Diego County reported 348 coronavirus ICU cases on Wednesday and an additional 2,598 COVID-19 cases.

Van Gorder said the county and hospitals project that hospitalizations will continue to grow and peak on Jan. 10, 2021, with about 1,827 patients, and ICU cases will peak on Jan. 11, with about 483 patients.

"Today, the governor announced the federal medical station at Palomar Medical Center is going to be activated. It's a developing situation. We'll share more information as we get it. But we're doing everything that we can to address the impact of the transmission of COVID, but each and every one of us now need to do everything we can to impact the situation our hospitals face," county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said during Wednesday's press conference.