(TNS) - A parking lot near a Lancaster hospital is being transformed into a field hospital by a nonprofit relief organization to treat coronavirus patients amid the worsening pandemic.
Samaritan's Purse — a nondenominational, evangelical Christian disaster-relief organization known for deploying medical teams to such places as Africa, Iraq and Haiti — is bringing a mobile unit of 50-plus beds and trained medical staff to help the team at Antelope Valley Hospital during the worsening pandemic.
The organization's DC-8 cargo plane airlifted the final components of the field hospital to the Antelope Valley on Monday, Jan. 11. The "instant hospital" will be ready to begin accepting patients on Tuesday or Wednesday, officials said.
"We have the opportunity to help relieve some of the pressure from the healthcare system in Lancaster, and we're thankful our team can come alongside them," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, in a statement. The group deployed a similar 30-bed respiratory-care unit in North Carolina last week, officials said, and has assisted COVID patients in Italy, the Bahamas and New York City.
"Please pray for the frontline workers," Graham said, "fighting COVID every single day."
Graham is also president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, named for his father, evangelist Billy Graham, one of the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th Century.
Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris said the city is paying to set up the field hospital, essentially a fortified high-tech tent, and to house medical personnel; the hospital will pay for such expenses as laundry. The rest of the bill, including supplies and salaries for the medical team, will be paid for by Samaritan's Purse.
The group's officials declined an offer to occupy one of the city's buildings instead, because their tents — similar to the ones used in Africa to treat Ebola patients — are specially constructed and equipped to prevent the virus' spread.
The field hospital rollout became possible after Parris called out to the U.S. Congressional Offices of Rep. Mike Garcia, R- Santa Clarita, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R- Bakersfield and former San Fernando Valley Rep. Buck McKeon for help. The Republican lawmakers connected city officials with the faith-based relief group.
The North Carolina-based organization, whose name was inspired by the familiar New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in individual contributions each year, according to the group's financial statements, and spends 86% of its revenues on aid such as the hospital project.
In Los Angeles County, there were 7,926 residents hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, Jan. 11, including 1,724 in intensive-care units. The county's hospitals admit between 750 and 800 COVID patients each day while intensive care beds grow increasingly scarce, county officials said.
The Lancaster area has itself been hit hard by the outbreak. Antelope Valley Hospital had become so overwhelmed with COVID patients in recent weeks, it moved patients into overflow tents outside.
So far, no one has been denied care at the hospital, where 25 FEMA personnel were recently deployed, Parris said. But healthcare workers are anticipating another surge soon, he added.
"We don't know how bad it's going to get," he said, noting that he was not sure if 50 beds offered by the field hospital would be enough to handle the upcoming surge. "We're not at the place where we're denying the care or rushing the care — and the goal is to avoid that."
Meanwhile, healthcare officials around the county are dealing with similar challenges to staffing, supplies and space at many hospitals, facing an unprecedented caseload. At this point, however, officials don't appear to be ready yet to open up any major extra facilities to address the surge. L.A. County officials have, however, requested additional personnel for local.
"The state has not indicated that it would be opening another surge hospital or alternate care sites at this point," according to an email from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "The State is focused on providing appropriate level staff (RN critical care, and respiratory therapist) to hospitals at this time."
The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the California Health and Human Services Agency last week requested that 500 additional federal medical workers be sent to California hospitals and skilled nursing homes.
Although new daily hospital admissions have finally begun to level off in recent days, "we don't know the impact of Christmas and New Year's gatherings. We will continue working closely with the state on addressing staffing needs at our four Department of Health Services hospitals," the email said.
Late last year, the county's lease expired on the Los Angeles Surge hospital — opened in response to the coronavirus outbreak at the vacant St. Vincent Medical Center campus near downtown Los Angeles — according to a spokesperson with the L.A. County Department of Health Services.
The 1,000-bed USNS Mercy hospital ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles last year, but treated fewer than 100 patients and was not retained. It is not available for deployment now, U.S. Navy officials said recently, due to scheduled maintenance in Portland, but naval medical staff could be available to help.
"I continue to question the wisdom of dry-docking a hospital ship during a pandemic," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn in a statement.
Last week, the L.A. County Department of Health Services received two teams of 20 medical staff from the Department of Defense, according to Liz Odendahl, spokeswoman for Hahn. The teams are now at Harbor-UCLA and LACUSC Medical Center. Each team consists of 11 registered nurses, six medics, two respiratory therapists and one nurse practitioner.
Hahn is working with the Department of Defense, striving to send the USNS Comfort hospital ship currently stationed in Virginia to L.A. County "with a full team of medical staff to provide backup for our strained hospital system," Odendahl said.
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