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With virus at critical level, Costa Mesa’s Fairview Developmental Center reopens to COVID-19 patients

Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa
Closed in September, Costa Mesa’s Fairview Developmental Center reopened this week as an alternate care facility capable of admitting nearly 200 low-acuity COVID-19 patients, with the ability to expand.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As an unparalleled surge in coronavirus infections outstrips hospital capacities, and with virtually no ICU beds available for Orange County COVID-19 patients, officials announced Wednesday that Costa Mesa’s Fairview Developmental Center has reopened as a regional alternate care site.

Partially retrofitted in April to accept individuals recovering from COVID-19 and other low-acuity coronavirus cases, the center stopped admitting patients on Sept. 30 after several months of low patient census.

The state-owned facility remained in a “warm close” state, meaning it could reopen within 72 to 96 hours if needed. This week, as state and county health officials looked for ways to alleviate packed emergency rooms and ICU units, the site was officially brought back online.

The first round of COVID-19 patients was admitted into an area with a 125-bed capacity, according to Costa Mesa Fire & Rescue Chief Dan Stefano, who acts as a liaison representing the city in matters related to Fairview.

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“We’d been hearing for the past month the state’s alternate care sites were going to ramp up, and in the past week and a half [the site] has been coming back online,” Stefano said Wednesday, estimating a patient census of about 10 by this weekend.

Meanwhile, two other units are being prepared to admit anywhere from 25 to 50 memory care patients and individuals with developmental disabilities. Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said Fairview would play an important role in serving the needs of the most vulnerable.

“It’s critical that we care for these residents in a way that’s safe and gets them out of housing situations where they may not be able to socially distance from everyone and allow them to recover with dignity,” Foley said.

Orange County Health Care officials recorded Wednesday 3,231 new infections and 23 deaths. Area hospitals reported treating 1,486 COVID-19 patients with 319 in intensive care units.

Secondary students in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa may be returning to distance learning at the end of winter break due to the pandemic, depending on a vote by trustees Thursday.

As critical as the shortage of hospital beds is, Stefano said staffing levels are presenting an added challenge to firefighters and paramedics who regularly transport patients to facilities throughout the county.

Recent average patient offload times, aka “wall times” — the time from an ambulance’s arrival to the time a patient is seen, so named because paramedics and patients on gurneys are often lined up along a receiving wall — have gone from about 15 to 20 minutes to upward of an hour, Stefano said.

The picture is worse in neighboring Los Angeles, Imperial and San Bernardino counties, he added, where medical responders have had to wait up to six or seven hours for a single patient to be admitted.

Given the hospital shortages, officials are urging residents to seek treatment from their personal physicians or area urgent care facilities unless they are experiencing an absolute medical emergency.

“If you need us, we’re there,” Stefano said. “[But] if you come in and you’re not in an immediate emergency, you’re going to have to wait. You don’t want to be a part of that.”

The fire chief said what happens in the next 17 days could determine the course of the pandemic for the first six months of the new year, adding now is the “most critical time we have seen to date.”

Fairview is one of several alternate care sites being opened across California. Others are coming online to address hospital bed shortages in Fresno, Imperial and Sacramento counties. While the census is still small, officials say the capacity can be increased if the appropriate staff can be found.

“You’ve got to have the people,” Stefano said.

Cardine writes for Times Community News.


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