Sam Levin Profile picture
12 Jan, 23 tweets, 7 min read
I spent time inside a South LA hospital with the highest rate of Covid patients in the region – the epicenter of the epicenter of America's out-of-control pandemic.

Here's what I saw + heard from frontline staff battling the catastrophic surge. THREAD:

theguardian.com/us-news/2021/j…
Entire families are hospitalized – husbands and wives, twin brothers in their 20s, parents and their children. Anahiz Correa, ICU nurse manager, recounted a mother and son who ended up dying in the same ICU room weeks apart. "The patients are much sicker and it’s not clear why.”
Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital has put beds in an old gift shop, which has a small sign on the door indicating “patient care in progress.” The chapel around the corner is filled with gurneys. Patients are treated in the waiting room + doubled up in spaces meant for one.
Outside the building, there are five triage tents for intake. The hospital was so full at the end of December, it had to formally declare an “internal disaster," which temporarily diverted ambulances from showing up – “the first time ever in our history”.
The hospital once had separate wings for Covid. Now, positive patients are on every floor. Araceli Martinez, the charge nurse on the fourth floor, explained that her floor had originally been “clean” (no Covid), but now had 29 positives: “It’s physically and emotionally draining"
Secelia Dean, a supervisor who helps coordinate staffing, said that the hospital would typically hire travel nurses to handle a surge in patients, but was struggling now: “They are in demand everywhere because of this pandemic – Texas, Atlanta, everywhere. We are outnumbered.”
CEO Dr. Elaine Batchlor said the hospital keeps expanding capacity + bringing in more patients, while burned out staff are taking leaves of absence.

“We add more beds, we add more patients, and the same number of people continue to take care of them.”
It's a daily scramble to find oxygen. Jonathan Westall, a VP, said patients would typically be plugged into wall oxygen in rooms, but now that they're in tents, hallways + makeshift quarters, the hospital needs more “grab + go” tanks (normally just used for brief transportation).
“We have three times the number of patients we normally would have and most patients now have respiratory distress,” Jonathan Westall said, noting that local vendors were not prepared for this kind of surge.

And the tanks have to be refilled:
“I’m cold-calling everybody , making 100 calls a day … or I’ll put a guy in a truck with 50 tanks + send him to a plant and tell him to stand outside.”

At times, it's down to the wire: “We’re going to get 50 at 4pm, or we’re not going to get any + I’m going to run out at 8pm.”
When the morgue became full, the hospital was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck, which then began filling up, too: “Now we’re putting shelves in it, so we can fit more bodies," Dr. Batchlor told me in our first interview.

A week later, MLKCH needed a whole new truck.
The hospital hasn't had to ration care yet, but if it does, it would be like a “battlefield during war," Dr. Batchlor said: “Normally, you’re maximizing care for each individual patient. But when you move into a crisis situation, you’re trying to maximize it for the whole group.”
MLKCH is a small 131-bed community hospital that on some days in recent weeks has seen proportionally more Covid patients than any of the nearly 50 other hospitals in the LA area. Some days, it is treating nearly double the number of patients for which it normally has capacity.
MLKCH reminds us that the the toll of the pandemic is not equal. Most of its Covid patients are Latinos. They are essential workers who can’t escape the virus, who have had no option but to continue dangerous jobs during the worst phase of the pandemic yet. And their loved ones.
Only 4% of MLKCH’s patients have private health insurance, and because of low reimbursement rates, South LA has an overall shortage of 1,200 doctors. Localsend up at MLKCH at the end stages of untreated chronic illnesses. The ED in normal times is one of the busiest in the region
“The hospital is surrounded by a sea of chronic illness and lack of access to healthcare” -Dr. Batchlor. In normal times, amputations + wound care for diabetics are the most common procedures. South LA has higher rates of heart attacks, strokes + overall mortality than rest of LA
In Cedars-Sinai, Covid patients have made up roughly 23% of its capacity in recent weeks.

Twenty miles away at MLKCH, it’s 97%.
“Covid is preying on essential workers + many don’t have insurance… These are the bus drivers, they stock the grocery shelves, they are cleaners. So they’ve continued to be exposed,” Dr. Batchlor said “If one family member gets sick, the rest of the family is likely to get sick"
The Covid patients are sicker, younger than the average patients, and harder to keep alive.

“The horror stories are countless,” said Dr. Jason Prasso, an ICU doctor. “We try and stave off complications, but there’s nothing I can do to reverse the course of the virus.”
“I don’t even know what to say anymore. Everyone says, ‘Continue social distancing + wear your mask,’ but at this point the situation's so dire," said Anahiz Correa.

Her advice now: families should have tough conversations about their wishes if they become incapacitated or die
The hospital is used to dealing with crises in normal times, and the staff have kept the operation running smoothly, all things considered. They've found creative ways to do more with less. But there are limits of physical space + staff etc, and the numbers are only getting worse
Stories like this should remind people to stay home, mask up, etc. But the reality is the people suffering in this horrific wave are essential workers who can't protect themselves, their families, frontline workers, elderly + other vulnerable people who simply can't escape Covid.
If you want to get a small glimpse at how emotionally devastating this all is, do watch this footage from @sarasidnerCNN, who is doing vital and incredible reporting in LA (and who was so kind to me when we crossed paths reporting on this piece!)

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More from @SamTLevin

17 Dec 20
A short thread on the California prison system's Covid catastrophe + vaccine access:

Advocates + experts are arguing that CDCR must urgently make vaccines available to incarcerated people, mandate vaccines for guards, AND do mass releases of elderly/vulnerable. Here's why ⬇️
CDCR has a long history of severe medical neglect + abuse, including experimenting on incarcerated people. Some will likely be reluctant or scared to take a vaccine. This mistrust is compounded by the fact that CDCR has spread Covid across the system, infecting 31,000+ people.
Incarcerated people in CA have witnessed CDCR’s botched Covid response, which has allowed guards to bring Covid to every single prison, leading to mass and worsening outbreaks and 104 deaths. So why would people inside trust a vaccine? says @jamesking0314:
Read 11 tweets
13 Dec 20
NEW: California is on track to allow mass evictions to begin during the worst phase of the pandemic so far. Millions are at risk, and many more will die of Covid if lawmakers don't pass new tenant protections.

A short thread on what's at stake ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/d…
-More than 2 million households said they couldn't pay rent in November, and that # will increase with new shutdowns.

-Tenants owe an estimated $1.7 billion in unpaid rent, and California law currently says they are on the hook for all of it, which will be impossible for many.
Evictions mean more people will die. When other states lifted eviction moratoriums, it led to 433,700 additional Covid cases + 10,700 more fatalities, according to @LeifScience.

Given the scale of the crisis in CA, the fatal consequences will be catastrophic here.
Read 11 tweets
15 Oct 20
NEW: I interviewed Jackie Lacey + George Gascón about their tight race for LA district attorney, arguably the most important criminal justice election in the US. There are huge differences in their beliefs on incarceration + safety.

Thread on my chats ⬇️

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/o…
LA has the largest jail system in the world + extremely high prison rates. I asked Lacey if the region jails too many people.

She said no, and warned that if she were a less punitive DA, LA would “deteriorate” with the “criminal community” + “predators” flocking to the region.
Lacey has fought for the right to continue prosecuting children under the age of 12, and has continued to try youth as adults. She said this was warranted for some crimes: "You can say, 'Oh you’re incarcerating children!' but that’s not the act of a child or the mind of a child."
Read 19 tweets
22 Sep 20
NEW: Kao Saelee worked as an incarcerated firefighter in California.

But when his release date came, the state partnered with ICE and transferred him to detention. He now faces deportation to Laos, a country his family fled when he was two years old.

theguardian.com/us-news/2020/s…
Kao, now 41, has been imprisoned since he was a teenager. Even though he completed his sentence and fought wildfires, @GavinNewsom + CDCR handed him over to ICE.

“I paid my debt to society, and I think I should have a chance to be with my family," Kao told me from ICE jail. Image
When his release date came on August 6, Kao's sister was waiting outside the prison to take him home for the first time in two decades. Instead, guards handed Kao over to a private security contractor for ICE who shackled his hands, waist and legs, put him in a van and drove off.
Read 17 tweets
16 Sep 20
NEW: In Oregon, there is now a confirmed Covid-19 outbreak linked to the evacuation of Coffee Creek prison in the fire zone. Two prisoners have tested positive + Dept of Corrections says they mixed with groups outside of their units during evacuation to Deer Creek, another prison
Here’s part of DOC statement to @TaraHerivel and other attorneys. “Female AIC” refers to an incarcerated woman who tested positive. State is now expediting return of evacuated prisoners to Coffee Creek. Delays in tests results have made this situation more complicated, DOC says. Image
DOC says it appears the two Covid+ prisoners didn’t mix with the population at Deer Ridge, the prison where evacuees were placed. There is still fear about a possible mass outbreak. The fire threat is not over. For thousands of impacted families, this is an unimaginable nightmare
Read 7 tweets
15 Sep 20
I spoke with men incarcerated at Oregon State Penitentiary, who are stuck in overcrowded facilities in the fire zone + have repeatedly been pepper sprayed. They're begging for help.

Here's a short thread with audio from my prison calls, shared with their permission.

LISTEN ⬇️
Parker, 23: "Pepper spray got on everyone, everyone was coughing and sneezing. I couldn't even take a drink of my water. There was so much in the air. I still have lasting effects. I was scared. I didn't think they would put us in that situation. DOC is supposed to protect us."
John, 44: "It's smoky in here. It's horrible in here. Some of these inmates are elderly, some have heart problems + respiratory problems. This is no place for them. What you're brewing is a perfect storm for violence and pandemonium. How do you plan on protecting these inmates?"
Read 12 tweets

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