As the massive volume of COVID-19 patients continues to strain hospitals throughout Southern California, state and federal agencies are stepping in to assist facilities needing to provide oxygen to individuals with respiratory issues.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday, Jan. 4, that the state has convened an oxygen task force and devised a five-part strategy for addressing the higher-than-usual demand for oxygen and related equipment.
Among these strategies was the deployment of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel to area hospitals to evaluate not only their oxygen delivery systems but their ability to add more beds in the event of an increase in patient load, said Mike Petersen, chief of public affairs for the Army Corps’ South Pacific division.
“We’re looking at basically the infrastructure of the hospitals and making sure they can support the surge of patients,” said Petersen, noting that the Army Corps is expected to submit reports of their evaluations to the Federal Emergency Management Agency by midweek.
One issue that hospitals, particularly those with aging infrastructure, are facing is the ability to deliver high-pressure oxygen to patients. In some instances, piping oxygen to patients on higher floors is a challenge due to a lack of pressure.
Initially, the Army Corps of Engineers was to evaluate six local hospitals, but that list had grown to 11 by Monday afternoon, according to Petersen.
Those hospitals included: Adventist Health White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, Beverly Hospital in Montebello, Emanate Health Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina, Lakewood Regional Medical Center in Lakewood, Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, PIH Health Hospital in Downey and PIH Health Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance and Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
San Antonio Regional Hospital in Upland in San Bernardino County was also evaluated.
Mark St. Julien, vice president of facilities and construction for PIH Health, said in an email that the Corps of Engineers met with staff at Good Samaritan Hospital on Sunday and “confirmed that the processes in place to enhance the oxygen systems at the hospital are effective.”
Additionally, the hospital system is working with the Army Corps to identify two 80-bed alternative care sites — one in Los Angeles and the other in Downey — should the need arise for more patient capacity.
Once the reports are submitted to FEMA, it will be the hospitals’ responsibility to implement any recommendations for improving its infrastructure and delivery of services, Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of L.A. County’s Department of Health Services, said during the county’s briefing with reporters.
Although there is not a shortage of oxygen supply across the board, Ghaly said some hospitals and vendors have had difficulty refilling canisters that hold the oxygen due to disruptions to their supply chain. Some facilities have reported a shortage in portable oxygen canisters, which are used while transporting patients around a hospital, and some are having difficulty getting their hands on canisters for out-patients to take home.
Adventist Health White Memorial reported over the weekend that the state had provided it with a bulk tank facilitator to help with the flow of oxygen to patients. The hospital is also expecting some 40 oxygen concentrators from the state. Concentrators are small units that patients can take home that provides supplemental oxygen.
By providing home oxygen support, patients can continue their recovery from home, thereby freeing up beds for other patients who need to be hospitalized.
Newsom said Monday the state had 423 oxygen concentrators available from several sources and had ordered an additional 400.
“We’re just looking at the panoply of oxygen support … and looking at how we can utilize more flexibility and broader distribution of these oxygen units … particularly in these areas — San Joaquin Valley, Los Angeles County,” he said.