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Kaweah Health Chief Executive Officer answers community's COVID-19 questions

  • Category: News
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Laura Florez-McCusker

Visitor policy changes, capacity for second wave, hospital challenges and more discussed.

VISALIA – Are there any updates on the no-visitor policy? Given the recent protests, how well equipped is Kaweah Health to handle a surge of patients? What is the status of antibody testing for employees? As the number of cases rise in Tulare County, many people have questions and concerns about COVID-19. In an online video-conference this week, Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health's Chief Executive Officer, answered questions from Tulare County residents.

Question: Are there any updates to Kaweah Health's no-visitor policy?

Answer: Kaweah Health evaluates the visitor policy every week and effective Friday, June 5, it has decided to allow both parents to visit patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, however, only one designee may stay overnight. The unit has large, private rooms and houses three negative pressure rooms, where a patient can be isolated if needed. Otherwise, the no-visitor policy has not changed. There are still no-visitors allowed with exceptions made for: end-of-life patients, labor and delivery/pediatric patients and dementia/developmentally-delayed patients needing family/caregiver support for safety. Kaweah Health continues to watch COVID-19, bracing for the possible surge that may come as the community begins to reopen. If things begin to stabilize and remain calm, Kaweah Health will make changes to its policy.

Question: How well equipped is Kaweah Health for a new wave of COVID-19 that may be seen due to the protests?

Answer: If a new surge of COVID-19 patients hit Kaweah Health, there would be capacity to care for patients. Kaweah Health Medical Center currently has 435 beds and an occupancy rate of 79 percent, while back in March prior to COVID-19, Kaweah Health Medical Center was a 403-bed facility with an 80 percent occupancy rate. Additionally, Kaweah Health has 45 acute rehabilitation beds on its campus in southwest Visalia. Kaweah Health continues to coordinate with the County, performing testing, and in exploring use of the Porterville Developmental Center. Staffing is one of Kaweah Health's biggest challenges with employees testing positive for COVID-19, many of them nurses, it has been a challenge to fully staff the hospital as the patient census grows. Kaweah Health is working with the County to enlist the help of the 120 volunteer health care workers enrolled with the County.

Question: What is the status of Kaweah Health's antibody testing?

Answer: Kaweah Health has offered antibody testing to 3,000 of its 5,000 employees, beginning first with those who had the greatest interactions with COVID patients. To date, 880 employees have been tested with only 18 of them testing positive for the antibodies. Employees are still scheduling appointments for testing, so final results are not yet available.

Question: Does Kaweah Health have a plan to assist in its financial recovery?

Answer: Kaweah Health is working on a plan and will meet with its Board of Directors over the next few weeks to present the budget to them in June for approval. Due to the financial impacts of COVID-19, Kaweah Health is exploring options, which include a hiring freeze, no employee raises, looking to cut services that are subsidized, etc. Kaweah Health is waiting on possible stimulus funds from the Federal and State government that could greatly affect its budget. There is a lot of uncertainty, but we are working on our plan.

Question: Is there anything currently impacting Kaweah Health's ability to discharge patients?

Answer: Right now, Kaweah Health has 22 patients that are in the hospital that are COVID-19 negative and should be discharged to a nursing home, however nursing homes will not take those patients in accordance with the State’s new regulations governing nursing homes. The State now requires repeated testing of these residents to ensure that hospitals are not allowing COVID-19 positive patients back into nursing homes. Kaweah Health is working with the County to see if the State would set up the Porterville Development Center as a healthy nursing home alternative so that Kaweah Health can discharge these patients in the future and open up capacity.

Question: With elective surgeries now scheduled, are Kaweah Health's operating rooms busy?

Answer: Yes. Kaweah Health began doing elective surgeries the week of May 18. It did 51 surgeries on May 20 and is currently back to where it was pre-COVID-19. Kaweah Health has been deliberate about how it has resumed elective surgical services, limiting inpatient surgeries to eight per day. Next week, Kaweah Health will increase that number, while keeping watch on what is happening in the community. If there is a surge of COVID activity, Kaweah Health will be able to pull back the number of surgeries it performs.

Question: Why have we not heard how COVID is affecting the homeless?

Answer: Our Street Medicine program, which provides care to Tulare County’s most vulnerable patients: the undocumented worker, uninsured, and homeless population, has recently started back up to test people in homeless encampments for COVID-19. They swab the individuals and bring the specimens back to the lab for testing. They have had low positivity results in the homeless community.

Kaweah Health shares COVID-19 information and regular updates with the community on its website at and on its social media accounts.