As San Mateo County reports record COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, officials announced Monday a $4.5 million agreement to staff up to 10 additional intensive care beds at Dignity Health’s Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. 

“We are proud of the collaborative relationship we have with San Mateo County and the other health care providers within the region,” said Sequoia Hospital President and CEO Bill Graham in a statement. “We are pleased to be able to offer this additional resource to support the increased demand for ICU care.”

Under the agreement, approximately 40 medical personnel will be deployed to the Sequoia Hospital for at least 30 days through a partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, a company that provides clinical resources, such as personnel and health care solutions, to hospital settings worldwide. 

The first five-bed unit will be staffed within a week with the second five-bed unit available the following week. Kevin Kimbrough, Dignity Health’s manager of external communications, said that the extra ICU beds, converted from existing regular beds, would add to the 16 licensed ICU beds Sequoia currently has staffed. 

County spokeswoman Michelle Durand said in an email that a combination of county general funds and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act dollars were used to launch the program. Officials are hopeful CARES funding will be extended into the new year, fully reimbursing the county fund, she added. 

Both Sequoia Hospital and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare have helped pandemic efforts in the county in the past. Sequoia’s critical care and ICU teams have been treating ICU patients while medical personnel from AMI Expeditionary Healthcare have supported COVID-19 testing and clinical services at congregate care facilities in the county.

County Manager Mike Callagy said the extra “around-the-clock” staffing would be a regional asset as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise. 

“We’ve already received some patients from outside the county and we want to make sure that we’re able to respond to all the needs that we have,” Callagy said.

As of Sunday, Dec. 20, six of the 133 patients hospitalized in San Mateo County were from outside the county and 30 patients were receiving intensive care, leaving seven regular and 88 surge ICU beds available. 

More than 21,000 residents have tested positive for the virus, and 198 have died. Between Dec. 10 to Dec. 15, the county reported 15 new deaths, predominantly among residents of advanced age and half of whom were living in congregate care facilities, said County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant. 

“It is certainly alarming but cases are going up everywhere while also here in San Mateo County,” said Merchant, adding that taking all precautions in slowing the spread is paramount.

The Bay Area’s ICU availability is at 13.7%, according to state data, which triggered a regional stay-at-home order last week, closing down in-person dining, salons, barbershops and limiting retail capacity to 20%. 

“When ICU capacity drops below 15%, every staffed ICU bed counts, especially for each individual who needs care,” Travis Kusman, Emergency Medical Services director for San Mateo County, said in a statement. Kusman also serves as the regional disaster medical health coordinator.

The county’s Medical Health Operational Area Coordinator program will coordinate placing patients into the supplemental ICU beds. While the additional beds serve an important need, Louise Rogers, chief of San Mateo County Health, asked that people continue to follow safety guidelines. 

“In addition to reinforcing what we all need to do as residents — to always wear a mask in public, insulate our households from exposure, and taking the earliest possible actions to mask, isolate, self-quarantine even within our households — we determined there is an additional role we could play by investing in greater ICU staffing capacity,” Rogers said. “This partnership between San Mateo County, AMI and Dignity Health is a timely backstop to preserve the availability of medical care for Bay Area residents.”

Meanwhile, efforts to rapidly administer vaccinations are well underway as facilities prepare to receive additional shipments from the life science companies Pfizer and Moderna in the coming weeks. 

Beginning this Monday, 9,800 Kaiser Permanente employees across Northern California have received treatment, 25 at the Redwood City Medical Center, said a Kaiser Permanente representative. 

Employees at Sutter Health’s Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, began receiving the vaccination at 8:30 a.m. Friday following a “very cute” countdown, said Emma Dugas, a Sutter Health spokeswoman. 

At Sequoia Hospital, Graham said in a statement that vaccine distribution began immediately after shipment of the Pfizer doses arrived last week, adding that vaccination will be expanded to all hospital staff in the coming weeks. 

All three medical providers are monitoring supply opportunities and are following the priority framework set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“In a year filled with devastation and uncertainty, it was an honor and privilege to take this first step toward recovery,” said Chief of Neurology Dr. Vivek Rao, in a statement after receiving the vaccination at the Redwood City Medical Center. “The shot didn’t even hurt.”

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