California spent nearly $200 million to set up, operate and staff alternate care sites that ultimately provided little help when the state’s worst coronavirus surge spiraled out of control last winter, forcing exhausted hospital workers to treat patients in tents and cafeterias.
It was a costly way to learn California’s hospital system is far more elastic than was thought at the start of the pandemic. Through desperation and innovation, the system was able to expand enough to accommodate patients even during the dire surge that saw hospitalizations top 20,000 and nearly 700 people die weekly.
“Definitely some hospitals, particularly in the Los Angeles area, were at the breaking point, but we did not see that much use of the alternate care sites relative to what was contemplated,” said Janet Coffman, a health policy professor at University of California, San Francisco. “As dire as the situation was in the winter, it