As hospital beds fill up once again, healthcare workers say they are more prepared than before

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Amid this troubling resurgence of COVID-19, there is one hopeful sign: hospitals around the country seem to be getting better at treating the illness.

At the peak of the spring wave, Regional Medical Center in San Jose was among the most impacted hospitals in the Bay Area.

“I think it was difficult for everybody. We were short staffed, there was a PPE shortage, not having enough masks,” said one healthcare worker of the spring surge.

But things are different now.

“Much better positioned,” said Dr. Paul Silka, who heads up the hospital’s emergency department. “What we learned medically, clinically from treating the disease in March, April has made an impact in this peak… we are seeing sick patients, but I think with our management their illness is not as severe, their stay in the medical center, lengths of stay is diminished.”

It has been a long learning curve though.

“As with the rest of the country and the rest of medicine, there’s lessons to be learned on a continuum,” said Dr. Silka. “You know, this is a new disease so we’re learning as we go.”

The lessons have been wide ranging, leading hospitals to change their approach in a number of ways. For example, expanding the use of steroid treatments while pulling back on the use of ventilators. Proning patients - that is, flipping them on their stomachs - has turned out to be a low tech but surprisingly effective treatment.

“I’m a big cause and effect person, so when you turn someone on their stomach and you see a drastic improvement in their oxygenation very quickly, it’s kind of a gratifying experience,” said nurse David Anderson.

Healthcare workers at Regional Medical Center
Healthcare workers at Regional Medical Center Photo credit Keith Menconi/KCBS Radio

Health experts believe that all these little changes, when taken together, are helping to drive down the death rate for COVID-19. And those improvements are being seen nationally.

But the overall death toll continues to rise and there are concerns that if this current surge continues the way it is going, hospitals could be overwhelmed.

“There’s a little bit of confidence that always comes from having seen this before, but it’s - there’s still a lot to worry about it” said Dr. Anne Walker with the hospital’s emergency department. She says it is hard not to feel as if the worst is still to come.

Dr. Silka acknowledges the challenges ahead are steep, but he says nevertheless, he has faith that the medical community will continue to adapt.

“I just see this community come together, each of the organizations rolling up their sleeves, ready to take this on.”