LANCASTER — Antelope Valley Hospital has seen a surge in patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Tuesday, the hospital had 123 COVID-19 patients, of which 26 are in the intensive care unit.
A group of FEMA personnel including nurses and doctors assisted with patients.
“Their medical personnel provided much needed relief for our staff, since they were treating COVID and non-COVID patients,” Cynthia Frausto, director of Marketing and Public Relations for AV Hospital wrote in an email, adding a second FEMA group is expected.
Help is also coming from Samaritan’s Purse, an international, nondenominational evangelical Christian disaster relief organization, which set up an emergency field hospital in the AV Hospital parking lot.
Jennifer, a registered nurse who asked not to use her last name, said working conditions are harsh at the hospital.
She took issue with Mayor R. Rex Parris when, during a New Year’s Eve COVID-19 update, he deemed nurses who leave AV Hospital for more money at hospitals in the San Fernando Valley, “tyrannous cowards.”
“You should really shadow a nurse at AV Hospital, ask about their pay and benefits, and watch as they work harder than any nurses I have seen in order to help manage the caseloads. Nurses at AV Hospital are lucky to get bathroom breaks, much less a lunch break. Additionally, nurses are operating out of ratio right now, which is not conducive to patient care or patient safety,” Jennifer wrote in her email to the mayor, which she shared with the Antelope Valley Press.
AV Hospital received state-approved waivers to increase the nurse to patient ratios late last year as COVID-19 cases surged.
“Working with COVID patients, especially those that are critically sick and dying, takes a toll on one’s mental health. Sometimes, nurses decide that the low pay and unforgiving workloads are not worth it. These nurses are not ‘tyrannous cowards’; they are doing what is best for themselves and their families,” Jennifer wrote.
Jennifer suggested hospital executive leaders work on the floor to help with answering phones and restocking supplies. She said AV Hospital was not prepared for the surge in patients.
AV Hospital has about 1,200 nurses on staff. Nurses care for COVID-19 patients depending on what treatment is needed, so they may be in areas such as surgery, intensive care unit, coronary care unit and the emergency department.
Frausto said the hospital has been prepared and organized resources months in advance of the surge. This includes having enough personal protective equipment on hand and hiring more traveling nurses. The hospital has paid overtime and provided nurses monetary incentives to come to work.
“We have about 20 nurses calling out sick daily, not all COVID related,” Frausto wrote.
Mayor R. Rex Parris met with nurses Tuesday morning via Zoom.
“They explained to me some issues that they asked me to help on,” Parris said.
After the call, the mayor talked to city staff to discuss adding nurses to Lancaster’s COVID-19 team. He also invited some nurses to speak at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The mayor also did not apologize for his comments.
“It’s one thing for a nurse to become exhausted and take time off or quit even; it’s another thing for one to leave for more money to a more affluent hospital in the middle of a crisis. I think the nurses that are staying, which are the nurses I was talking to, are the most heroic people I’ve ever seen,” Parris said.
Parris explained he did not know what he would do if he were the nurse. But he is not the nurse, he is the mayor.
“As far as I’m concerned anybody that threatens the lives of the people from the Antelope Valley is the enemy, and I will treat them as such. And that’s what I think people are who abandon their jobs for more money,” Parris said.
Parris added that does not mean he doesn’t think it’s a difficult decision; it is.
“Courage is always difficult,” Parris said.
The mayor does not want to see hospital executives on the floor.
“Somebody needs to be in charge; somebody needs to make the tough decisions,” Parris said.