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

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

VISALIA – As the number of cases rises in the Central Valley, many people have questions and concerns about COVID-19. Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health's Chief Executive Officer, recently took to social media to answer questions and provide information for Central Valley residents. Here are some of the questions asked, along with Herbst’s answers:

Question: Is every patient admitted to the hospital being swabbed for the coronavirus?

Answer: No. We have many patients as you can imagine that come to the hospital. They come for a variety of reasons – trauma, heart attacks, strokes, surgery, etc. When they are not exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus – fever, coughs, temperatures of 100.4 or higher - we do not just automatically swab them. If we did, this country would quickly run out of supplies. We would run out of the things that are required to collect specimens and we would absolutely run out of the testing supplies. We have to be very judicious and very prudent in our use of supplies.

Question: Are hospital staff being given adequate personal protective equipment?

Answer: There are very carefully designed protocols of when to use personal protective equipment (PPE). That applies to healthcare providers and to patients. Generally, the first person to receive PPE is the patient themselves. If a patient comes in and has an active respiratory issue, whether coughing and expelling micro droplets, we put a mask on them. This is to protect the providers, the people taking care of them. We then determine who is going to be caring for the patient and what PPE they should be wearing, which is always gloves and then often: gowns, N95 surgical masks, shields, etc. Each patient is assessed to determine what the risks are and we provide appropriate equipment to those caring for them. PPE is changed out when appropriate following the CDC’s algorithm to keep staff and providers protected. Like all hospitals, we have been running low on supplies, but when the President declared a national emergency, it freed up the national stockpile and we received N95 and surgical masks to add to our supply.

Question: How many ventilators does Kaweah Health have?

Answer: Ventilators are machines that help people breathe when you need to intubate a patient who has pneumonia and is struggling to breathe on their own, something that happens in advanced stages of COVID-19. Kaweah Health has 104 ventilators, nine are designed for pediatric patients, the rest for adults. We have some in use, but we have 50 in stock and in inventory that are not being used.

Question: Is there any chance that Kaweah Health would change to a no-visitor policy with no exceptions?

Answer: Like Kaweah Health, other hospitals, have implemented no-visitor policies, many with exceptions to allow certain types of patients to have one visitor - minors, end-of-life patients, Labor and Delivery/Neonatal Intensive Care Unit/Pediatric patients, disabled or developmentally delayed patients. I do not see any scenario with respect to someone having a C-section that their partner would not be allowed in the room. Things are changing daily, but it may be that they will just have to wear additional PPE.

Question: What are you doing to keep patients and their families connected?

Answer: Kaweah Health Medical Center is issuing iPads to patients who do not have devices capable of live streaming technology so that they can virtually visit with loved ones during their hospital stay. When a patient would like to use an iPad, they simply ask a member of their clinical team for one. Patients are given an iPad to ensure that all patients have an opportunity for a virtual visit. When patients finish with the device, clinical staff will clean the iPad with germicidal disposal wipes and clear the call history.

Kaweah Health has taken a number of measures to put the health and safety of patients and visitors first. They include institution of a no-visitor policy, screening patients outside of its Emergency Department for COVID-19 symptoms, implementation of temporary entrances, cancelling all public events, removing volunteers from its sites, cancelling all business travel, and asking its more than 5,000 employees to cancel internal meetings and use teleconferencing or online meetings instead.

This week, Kaweah Health launched a new, free screening hotline intended to assess people who may have COVID-19 symptoms from the safety of their home to avoid the unnecessary exposure of themselves and others. The free hotline allows an individual with COVID-19 symptoms, to schedule a same-day appointment with a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners call the individuals for a phone screening to determine if they need to visit a COVID-19 testing site or medical facility. Anyone can call the hotline at (559) 624-4110, but people with primary care physicians should call their physician for an assessment first. COVID-19 symptoms include the following within the last 14 days:

  • Fever of 100.4 degree F (38 degree C) or higher
  • Excessive dry cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Travel via plane, train, or cruise
  • Exposure to someone with confirmed case of COVID-19.

Kaweah Health will continue to share COVID-19 information and regular updates with the community on its website at, via media statements, and on its social media accounts.