LOS ANGELES — For Monica Escamilla, the text messages came in like clockwork.
The registered nurse was supposed to have the rest of the day and evening off from her job at Hemet Global Medical Center. But the texts from her supervisors came in anyway, asking for people to take on another shift — day or night. The hospital, located more than 75 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was going to be short on nursing staff. Again.
It’s been the norm since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.
“I feel so bad. I wish I could pick up (a shift) every single day to help, but I can’t. I really can’t,” Escamilla said. “And not just because I physically can’t, but you need a day or two to take care of your own things at home. ... It hurts me because it’s like, ah, they’re short again and they’re short again. ... I wish I knew how to get help for them.”
Escamilla works in the Inland Empire, where the delta variant’s summer surge pummeled hospitals more than anywhere else in Southern California, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.
Doctors, nurses, technicians and other hospital support staff have endured daily pressure to take on more shifts amid burnout and understaffing. Although the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is gradually dropping, medical staff fear another surge if more people don’t get vaccinated before the autumn and winter cold and flu season.
The Inland Empire hit its peak of hospitalizations on Sept. 1, when 1,246 coronavirus-infected people were hospitalized, the equivalent of 28 hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents.
That’s 56% worse than the peak for the three-county coastal region of Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, which recorded 18 hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents at its peak on Aug. 17; and also worse than San Diego County, which peaked on Aug. 27 with 20 hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents.
The Times analysis found that no other counties in Southern California have had a higher hospitalization rate this summer — including impoverished and largely agricultural Imperial County on the Mexican border, which had Southern California’s worst hospitalization rate during each of the pandemic’s first three surges last year, but not during the fourth wave this summer.
Despite previous coronavirus vulnerabilities — the result of overcrowded homes, high rates of poverty and huge numbers of essential workers — Los Angeles County, too, observed significantly lower hospitalization rates than the Inland Empire.