CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: Bed Shortage Still Concerns Officials
"Nearly a year after the Board of Supervisors declared a public- health emergency during last winter's peak flu season," Contra Costa County is still facing potential bed and staffing shortages. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the "board voted unanimously yesterday to continue the county Health Department's oversight of hospital operations" to keep abreast of whether emergency rooms and medical wards at the county's eight hospitals can "deal with patient demand." Hospitals claim they have coordinated efforts to deal with high demand and have integrated their systems with the county's emergency medical services (Tansey, 12/16). Specifically, the Contra Costa Times reports, hospitals in Alameda and Contra Costa counties have set up communication systems to route staff to the areas of highest patient demand, added space for acute and emergency care, made plans to keep open medical clinics and offices for less severe flu cases, and stepped up vaccination efforts. But Contra Costa Supervisor Donna Gerber said the hospitals' report "doesn't tell us whether they are prepared or not." County Health Chief Dr. William Walker added that whatever the plans, the county is still "one of the most underbedded counties in the country." His view is backed by a 1995 Dartmouth University study which showed that Contra Costa had "fewer nurses and beds per 1,000 residents than almost anywhere in the United States" (Spears, 12/13).
Supervisors rejected an offer by the hospitals to provide data on patient levels at midnight rather than at midday. Gerber said, "There is an attempt, in my opinion, to sort of cook the data" (Chronicle, 12/16). Under pressure from the board, "the hospitals agreed Tuesday to provide a daily count of patients through March," but it was still "unclear whether they would give county officials all the information they wanted." Gerber said the county would continue to pressure the hospitals should the board not receive all needed information ( Contra Costa Times, 12/16).