Its COVID unit is full. Photos show life inside this San Diego hospital

Saul Reynoso, Charlotte Thomas, Sandra Sandoval work on a patient.
Medical personnel Saul Reynoso, left, Charlotte Thomas and Sandra Sandoval work to stabilize a COVID-19 patient.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
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The impact of novel coronavirus on Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista is being felt with increasing intensity as significant numbers as the number of new cases steadily increases due, at least in part, to the facility’s proximity to Baja California where COVID-19 is straining medical resources.

On a recent afternoon the hospital, its main COVID unit already full, the call came down to clear the way for a patient, already on high-flow oxygen treatment, who needed to be admitted to the intensive care unit and placed on a mechanical ventilator due to severe and worsening respiratory distress.

Quickly helping each other slip into protective equipment, a team of intensivists quickly sedated the patient before inserting a breathing tube and connecting it to the ventilators.

It is moments like these, said Dr. Juan Tovar, an emergency medicine specialist and operations executive at Scripps Chula Vista, that show medicine is truly a team effort.

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From making sure that the hospital’s hallways were clear to backing each other up inside the patient’s room, communication, he said, is a supremely-important weapon in the COVID-19 fight.

“One of the biggest things that we’ve learned in this environment is that we need constant communication, both with the intensive care unit, and with our sister facility up in San Diego,” Tovar said. “Everybody needs to know what’s coming.”

As hospitals closest to the border start to see their COVID units fill, intensive care nurse manager Terry Taylor said the focus on the mechanics of bed space management are becoming more immediate. A constant eye must be kept on the hosptial’s 26-bed general COVID unit which can quickly see patients go from stable to critical.

“If half of them get sick, I’m suddenly full in the ICU,” she said. “That’s the thing I fear every day on the floor.”

But there are plenty of bright spots.

On Thursday, the hospital’s intensive care unit celebrated releasing its first two COVID patients, taking them off ventilators and sending them off the ward with music and applause.

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Nurse practitioner Charlotte Thomas readies her supplies
Nurse practitioner Charlotte Thomas readies her supplies to stabilize a patient who has just been intubated.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Dr. Dennis Amundson, center, works with colleagues to help a patient in ICU.
Dr. Dennis Amundson, center, works with colleagues to help a patient who has just arrived in the ICU.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Dr. Juan Tovar and nurse practitioner Charlotte Thomas at Scripps Mercy Hospital.
Dr. Juan Tovar and nurse practitioner Charlotte Thomas watch as an intubation is performed on a patient.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Respiratory therapist Sandra Sandoval in protective gear
Respiratory therapist Sandra Sandoval in protective gear inside a negative pressure isolation room.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Charlotte Thomas,  Sandra Sandoval and Saul Reynoso
From left, nurse practitioner Charlotte Thomas, respiratory therapist Sandra Sandoval and registered nurse Saul Reynoso work on a COVID-19 patient.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Lornna Hopping signals to a colleague
Lornna Hopping signals to a colleague as personnel monitor the removal of protective gear inside an anteroom that connects to an isolation room housing a COVID-19 patient.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Nurse practitioner Charlotte Thomas works with an infected patient.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Healthcare workers celebrate as a patient is discharged from the ICU.
Healthcare workers celebrate as Claudia Martinez is discharged from the ICU after recovering from COVID-19 symptoms at Scripps Mercy Hospital.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Claudia Martinez is discharged from the ICU after her recovery.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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