BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The latest COVID surge, fueled by the omicron variant, is taxing hospitals across Kern County.

“We are busy, our staff is affected,” Adventist Health Bakersfield chief medical officer Dr. Ghassan Jamaleddine said.

Even after omicron has run its course, health officials expect the coronavirus to play a part in medical care years into the future. That assumption is spurring conversations about how our healthcare system works, and how it doesn’t.

“This is going to be almost a seismic shift that we were really tiptoeing around in healthcare until COVID came and accelerated it,” Jamaleddine said.

Hospitals are designed to bear the brunt of the worst adverse health events in a population. That means rooms are often allotted based on data around seasonal illnesses, with fallout from cancer and heart disease factored in. If COVID becomes a significant driver of hospitalizations in the long term, our facilities aren’t equipped to handle it.

But there is some good news.

“We’re beginning to be better at taking care of patients outside the hospital, and taking care of higher acuity patients outside the hospital,” Adventist Health Bakersfield president Daniel Wolcott said.

Officials agree the pandemic forced care centers to get better at bringing care to patients.

“This pandemic has revealed to us an opportunity to go out to where the people are, and provide the care there,” Kern Medical CMO Dr. Glenn Goldis said.

Kern Medical and Adventist Health have both taken strides in mobile care, improving telehealth and developing mobile field clinics. Though there’s a long way to go, Jamaleddine compares the shift to a technological revolution we know well.

“You can see what happened between Blockbuster in the past and now Netflix,” Jamaleddine said. “Even for Netflix, at one point, they destroyed the [DVD] and we were angry about it, but now it’s no longer relevant.”

And as for brick-and-mortar hospitals themselves?

“The technology is going to shift more and more towards critical care,” Jamaleddine said.

If you’re critical, you’ll go to a hospital — but if you’re just sick, the hospital might come to you.