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Kaweah Health Medical Center commemorates one-year anniversary of COVID-19

  • Category: News
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  • Written By: María Rodríguez Ornelas

VISALIA, CA – On Friday, March 12, officials of the largest acute care hospital in the South Valley commemorated the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic with a moment of silence for those whose lives were lost as a result of the virus.

“We had no idea how long it was going to last, the severity, what the consequences and experiences were going to be,” said Gary Herbst, Chief Executive Officer of Kaweah Health, who Friday led the organization in a moment of silence for four Kaweah Health team members who passed away from COVID-19 – three employees and one provider. “It is a somber, solemn day, but at the same time, we have to recognize some incredible work by our team.”

Following the declaration of a national emergency by former President Trump on March 13, 2020, Kaweah Health declared a local emergency for COVID-19, as well. It stood up its incident command center, which it staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly nine months. Also on that day, Kaweah Health implemented a number of changes to protect patients, visitors, and staff from COVID-19, which included:

  • Putting up tents to begin COVID-19 testing outside of the Medical Center.
  • Limiting visitors at all campuses – a day earlier, restrictions were already in place at Kaweah Health's skilled nursing program.
  • Entrance changes.

In the days and months ahead, Kaweah Health would also:

  • Launch a free COVID-19 screening hotline for community members
  • Increase its offering of telehealth visits
  • Send clinical staff to assist with local skilled nursing facilities in danger of closing due to COVID-19 outbreaks
  • Complete an airflow project that allowed isolation for up to 86 COVID-19 positive patients in negative air pressure rooms - up from 10 rooms at the start of the pandemic.
  • Scale back, then restart elective surgeries
  • Start an employee relief fund to help employees who were experiencing economic loss due to furlough or a decrease in hours.
  • Offer curbside services at its urgent cares
  • Offer free COVID anti-body testing to its employees
  • Offer free COVID-19 tests to the homeless through its Kaweah Health Street Medicine Program.

Also, in partnership with the Tulare County Public Health Department, Kaweah Health began offering rapid COVID-19 testing very early on to help provide community members with same-day results. Later, when the COVID-19 vaccine became available, Kaweah Health again partnered with the County on its mass distributions, which still continues. Kaweah Health also provides COVID-19 vaccine to those who are eligible at Kaweah Health Urgent Care 1633 S. Court St. in Visalia.

“We’ve learned a lot and now the treatment of COVID has really become part of the norm,” Herbst said. “We know so much more after a year about how to protect ourselves and how to protect patients. With various medications available, ventilation and oxygen support, we’re just having better outcomes.”

On Friday, Kaweah Health was caring for 27 COVID-19 positive patients in the hospital – down from the Medical Center’s high of 169 patients on Jan. 5. That was good news, Herbst said.

“It’s been an eventful year without a doubt,” Herbst said. “We’ll get back on our feet. People have heard me often referring to the phoenix emerging out of the ashes, the beautiful, powerful bird. That will be Kaweah Health-- the phoenix that will have to dust off a lot of that ash that we’ve been covered in for the last year, but Kaweah Health and its team is a resilient organization and incredibly resilient people, so we’re going to be okay, and we’ll do this together.”

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