The Committee of Supervisors approved a lease to turn the former Sears building into a treatment facility for overflowing COVID-19 patients, but Santa Barbara County has never met the deal.
During July, with a sharp increase in local inpatients and hospitalizations, the county saw its availability as a potential alternative care facility for South Coast patients.
A lease agreement approved by the Board of Supervisors But no action has been put in place to plan to upgrade the building into a 200-bed hospital to serve patients if the district-wide hospital system is in trouble.
The building in La Cumbre Plaza at 3845 State St. has been empty since Sears closed in January 2019.
“In the matter of Sears as an alternative care facility, that is not the state direction today,” health director Van Do-Reynoso told supervisors on Tuesday.
“We now have an increasing capacity in our hospitals. If we need to have an alternate moderation site, we will cooperate and use what is available on the SLO Alternative Admin Site if needed and that is very ‘if necessary’.
“Right now our hospital is quite comfortable and wants the expansion to take care of patients within all four walls and within their campuses. The problem is staffing.”
North County patients can be referred to an established alternative care facility. (But never used) at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s campus.
“When we pursued Sears as an option last year, it was a different time and a different gap in the epidemic. It is no longer recommended or preferred among healthcare providers in our community or the state provides what we know for the treatment of hospitalized patients, ”Do-Reynoso said.
The Supervisory Board approved the lease of the property in July. But the county later decided not to pursue the deal, Assistant Director General Services Skip Gray told Noozhawk in an email on Tuesday.
“Once it was determined that the county no longer wanted Sears assets, we would not execute any agreements or leases,” Gray said.
The agreement and letter of intent to lease the property includes a “free tenure period” through August, he said.
“The county decided not to enter into the lease on August 28,” Gray said.
The county still has an agreement to use the Best Western hotel at 2220 Bath St. as an alternate care facility near Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but it has not been operational, Gray said.
Hospital surgery plan
Do-Reynoso said the hospital wanted to expand the capabilities within their own facilities, which is what they are doing with the surge plans.
The hospital reported the use of 13 intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients.Currently, approximately 64% of the county’s ICU patients have COVID-19.
With 211 people in hospitals infected with COVID-19, there are now more than twice that of the summer with the most sickness, worrying staff members need to take care of other facilities.
Ron Werft, Cottage Health’s president and CEO last week described the work Santa Barbara Cottage has done to transform the unit into a COVID-19 treatment area and draw staff from other areas of the hospital.
There was one separate COVID-19 unit operating at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital during Thanksgiving, and there are now five, including two ICUs, Werft said last week.
He added that a surgical ICU was converted into a unit for the care of COVID-19 patients.
The current challenge is getting more staff than physical beds, health and hospital officials say.
“As we look for increasing demand for our Santa Barbara hospital, the bed will not be a challenge, PPE and ventilators will not be a challenge,” Werft said.
“Even though we now have more employees than we have ever seen. But being able to identify, recruit and expand on demand is a huge challenge.