YEAR'S END PACKS HOSPITALS; SIMI, T.O. WARDS JUGGLING INCREASED DEMAND FOR CARE.
The hospitals serving Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks are packed with patients with the onset of winter illnesses and a year-end crush of elective procedures, requiring staffing increases and raising the prospect of diversions, officials said.
``As soon as there's a patient discharged, there's a patient waiting for the bed,'' said JoLynn de la Torre, spokeswoman for Simi Valley Hospital.
On Thursday, all medical and surgical beds were full at both Simi Valley Hospital and Los Robles Hospital/Medical Center.
Los Robles is the larger of the two, with 185 beds for acute medical and surgical patients, which make up most of a hospital's admissions. Simi Valley Hospital has 104 such beds.
The space crunch is not expected to ease much until the new year at Los Robles. Simi Valley Hospital officials said their patient trend has been developing throughout this year.
``We are prepared for it. We staff according to the illnesses our patients have,'' said Kris Carraway-Bowman, Los Robles spokeswoman.
This time of year, there are more seniors with influenza admitted to prevent more serious illness, weather-related accident victims, and people seeking elective procedures to take advantage of having paid health insurance deductibles throughout the year, officials explained.
To ease the crunch, Los Robles has been busy rescheduling elective surgical procedures.
``We've been full one day. It changes daily,'' Carraway-Bowman said.
Yet hospitals can plan only so much and some units will get full.
``It depends on what kind of patient you get in the door,'' de la Torre said.
Both hospitals, for instance, reported that all intensive care and cardiac care beds were full Thursday. If a doctor seeks to admit a patient to one of those units when full, patients will be diverted to a hospital with space, officials explained.
Demand for hospital services was an issue once regulated by the state through mandated Certificate of Needs reports. The reporting requirement mostly was used to prevent a glut of services, and it was ended a decade ago leaving the availability of hospital services to be driven by the marketplace, said Lana Pimbley, district manager for the state Department of Health Licensing and Certification Program office serving Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.
``The facility itself determines its size, and of course a facility cannot admit more patients than it is licensed to admit and they must give the care the patient needs,'' Pimbley said. ``If they couldn't safely give the care to the patient who needs it, then that would be far worse.''
Hospitals still conduct daily patient counts to determine staffing needs.
Simi Valley Hospital's counts have been rising throughout the year with no ready explanation, de la Torre said.
``We have experienced the highest continuous inpatient census for 1997 that we ever have,'' she said. ``We didn't know if it was going to last, but it continued and continued and they did start hiring more full-time nursing positions.''
Los Robles Hospital/Medical Center plans to open a new facility in the former Charter Hospital building in Westlake Village next month, which will add 71 beds for transitional care, acute rehabilitation and its geriatric psychiatry program. That will produce a net gain of 28 beds at the hospital, Carraway-Bowman said.
``That's why we're opening up the east campus, because there is a need here,'' she said.
The need for medical services was at the root of public criticism when Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. closed Westlake Hospital last year after purchasing the 60-bed facility.
The closure triggered an option held by Salick Health Care Inc. to buy the facility. In August, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. bought back the former hospital from an English pharmaceutical company that purchased Salick, Carraway-Bowman said.
``We're evaluating what to put there now,'' she said. ``We're under constant evaluation as to how we can best serve the growing needs of the community.''