Overwhelmed L.A. Hospitals Are Putting Patients In Gift Shops

by Cassandra Stone
Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty

Some L.A. County hospitals have been forced to use gift shop space amid a COVID-19 surge

Cases of COVID-19 are surging in Southern California, with Los Angeles County being particularly hard-hit with new cases of the virus. Hospitals in the area are so overwhelmed and so full, that they’ve been forced to utilize as much extra space as they can — including the hospital gift shop.

According to the L.A. Times, nearly every hospital in the county has been forced to redirect some ambulances carrying patients — more than 90 percent of the county’s hospitals that take patients based on 911 calls had to redirect ambulances on Sunday alone. “It’s a crisis — there’s no doubt about it,” says Kevan Metcalfe, Memorial Hospital of Gardena’s Chief Executive. “And they just keep coming.”

L.A. intensive care units are also jam-packed. According to Sunday’s data, the county had 1,449 ICU patients. As of Monday, there were only 54 available ICU beds in the entire county. Two-thirds of all ICU beds in L.A. County are currently filled with COVID-19 patients. “You have to be very resourceful and creative and utilize your resources maybe in ways that you haven’t before,” Metcalfe says.

The Times reports that if the situation should become more dire, hospitals could become forced to ration care which means doctors and medical staff will be forced to strategize about where to most effectively use their resources and equipment instead of doing everything possible to save every life.

It’s horrific. And many people with preventable or treatable issues will die as a result of this latest COVID-19 surge.

“We’re at a turning point. If it continues to get worse, many hospitals will begin rationing care,” said Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook, a 131-bed facility that had 215 patients Monday.

Memorial Hospital of Gardena is operating at 140% capacity this week and had to ask for a four-hour suspension on ambulance calls on Monday. In addition to the gift shops, conference rooms are also being used to treat ill patients. Medical tents are being set up in hospital parking lots.

“All hospitals are experiencing this strain, but it’s especially more pronounced and more serious for some of the smaller hospitals,” L.A. County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly told the Times. “Many hospitals have reached a crisis point and are having to make many tough decisions about patient care.”

Metcalfe said that the hospital has been forced to send home nearly all patients who are not extremely sick and can be treated with outpatient care.

“I’ve been in the business 40 years,” he said, “and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“If there is a Christmas surge, we probably have not experienced it yet,” L.A. County-USC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brad Spellberg warns. “If that happens, Los Angeles County will turn into what New York was in April.”