One week after the emergency triage tents outside Adventist Health Lodi Memorial came down, hospital staff bid another farewell to an integral part of the fight against COVID-19.
Friday was the last day for the second Department of Defense strike team at the hospital, which spent the last seven weeks assisting staff in the emergency room and intensive care unit as they treated COVID-19 patients.
Hospital staff lined the lobby and hallways up to the second floor cafe, holding signs of thanks and appreciation for the 35 military medical personnel.
“On behalf of Adventist Health, we thank you all for your service and your time here with us,” operations executive Brooke McCollough said before handing commemorative plaques and candles in the hospital cafe to the team as a thank you.
“We surely appreciate and could not have gotten through this surge without you,” she said.
A total of two doctors, two physician assistants, seven respiratory therapists and 24 registered nurses and support staff were deployed to Lodi Memorial and Dameron Hospital in Stockton. Of those, 16 clinicians, one doctor and a physician’s assistant were assigned to Lodi.
“I can’t tell you how your presence here has a made a difference,” chief nursing officer Katie Grimm said to the team. “This last surge was so much bigger than the first one over the summer and you didn’t just bring extra hands. You brought a fighting spirit, and we sincerely appreciate the impact you made.”
The team was deployed to the hospital on Dec. 29 as 55 patients were being treated for COVID-19, with 25 in the intensive care unit.
During that month, California was spliced into five regions and placed under a regional stay-at-home order as intensive care unit capacity dropped to zero throughout 12 counties in the San Joaquin Valley.
The regional stay-at-home order was lifted in late January, and as of Friday, San Joaquin County Emergency Medical Services Agency reported 12 COVID-19 patients at the Lodi hospital and two in the intensive care unit.
Air Force Capt. Dana Hunter said he was first assigned to the hospital’s emergency room, and eventually made his way to the intensive care unit. He said it was eye-opening to see the effects of COVID-19 first-hand.
“I feel in the military, we do see COVID, but at a much lower rate because we’re a select population,” he said. “So seeing it actually first-hand in the civilian sector is astonishing and real humbling to help people.”
The Tampa native, stationed at Travis Air Force Base, said duties included screening patients for COVID, providing patient care and helping with experimental treatments in the emergency room.
While in the ICU, he was tasked with visiting patients and managing their care.
He said everyone at the hospital was friendly and helpful, and helping reduce the number of COVID patients there was an amazing feeling.
“It was great,” he said. “To see the numbers decrease and take care of patients ... it was even more of a shock to see our nurse here say ‘My God, the numbers are going down.’ Very fulfilling, and it’s like a mission accomplished.”
A warm thank you was returned by the strike team, which presented Connie Chong, the hospital’s nursing administration R.N. manager, with a glass plaque of commemoration.
In accepting the gift, Chong said she was overcome with emotion when she learned a second DoD team would be deployed to the hospital.
“I started crying,” she said. “I just cried. We were in such a bad time with staffing. So my world was just beyond this. I cannot thank each and everyone of you enough for being here. You really made a difference. My walks are going to be lonely, and my rounds are going to be lonely.”
The strike team leaves San Joaquin County as public health officials report a total of 64,969 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began last March. Of those, 3,445 are currently active, while 60,532 people have recovered.
The county has reported 992 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.
County EMS reported Friday that a total of 164 patients were being treated for COVID-19 in seven hospitals, with 52 in the ICU.
According to county public health, there have been 4,426 cases in the 95240 ZIP Code and 118 deaths, while there have been 1,828 cases in the 95242 ZIP Code and 20 deaths.
San Joaquin County remains in the purple tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, with a new COVID-19 case rate of 31.7 per 100,000 residents and a testing positivity rate of 9.1%. The county’s health equity rate was 10.9% as of Friday.
In order to advance to the red tier, the county’s new case rate must be less than 7 per 100,000 residents. Its testing positivity rate and health equity rates must both be less than 8%.