WA State Hospitals remain over capacity for reasons unrelated to COVID

On Monday, Washington hospital officials again sounded the alarm about the state’s ever-dwindling bed capacity for patients, blamed not entirely on the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather to the problems that have plagued the system for most of the year.

According to Washington State Hospital Association leaders and various hospital officials who spoke to reporters on Monday.

The same problems were discussed at length during the association’s information meetings in December and January. Since that time, the problems have only increased, officials say.

Dr. Steve Mitchell, medical director of the Washington Medical Coordination Center, said hospitals in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties “are more strained today than at any time since the start of the pandemic.”

Tacoma-based MultiCare is no exception. Dr. David O’Brien, senior vice president and general manager of MultiCare South Sound Region, said hospitals in the region “have been operating at over 100% capacity for months,” with about 180 patients stuck in the hospitals, unable to exit due to lack of capacity in skilled care facilities or guardianship issues.

If a patient hasn’t named a decision maker in a power of attorney document, the only option is a court-appointed guardian, which is time-consuming, depending on the state’s interpretation of the law.

A bill that was introduced in the Washington State Legislature that would have relaxed guardianship rules for the transfer did not go beyond a public hearing in the House Committee on civil and legal rights, according to the state’s online bill tracker, and health officials are trying to educate the public about why their next visit with a doctor in the emergency department might be in the lobby hospital or in a conference room.

Steve Brooks is Chief of Lacey Fire District 3 and President of the Washington State Fire Chief’s Association. Brooks said Monday’s briefing, which he attended, helped him learn more about the “throughput challenges” that result in patients being parked in ambulances awaiting admission.

“The transfer or unloading time….I think the record I’ve heard of in my community so far is around 4.5 hours,” he said, as he n there was no hospitalization capacity.

“In our area, we’re seeing this kind of normal emergency department capacity actually being occupied” by patients who would normally be in a room. “It’s becoming very common practice,” he said.

Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, told reporters they were calling for more temporary and rapid response teams, much like those used by the state earlier in the pandemic for facilities. understaffed care that could help eliminate some of the backlog, as well as other measures. In the past, teams were contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services, hiring temporary nursing agencies using $1.3 million in CARES Act funding.

She and others have made it clear that guardianship rules for transfers remain a significant hurdle.

Meanwhile, officials such as Dr. Nathan Schlicher, former president of the Washington State Medical Association and practicing emergency services physician at St. Joseph Medical Center, have implored people to stay safe through the summer.

“Returning to life has produced more trauma,” he said, with accidents, gun violence and more, “and we’re seeing increasing pressure on the system.”

He added: “We need the help of Olympia and our leaders to get people out of the building. Because if overnight, we got those 10-20% of the people who stay in our building out…our capacity would be a very different conversation, and I could actually take care of you again in a bed of emergency, not just in the hallway. ”

The pandemic’s disruption of routine surgeries and resulting delayed care, additional labor costs for traveling healthcare staff, and supply chain disruptions have all strained health care providers. medical systems, officials noted Monday.

O’Brien said MultiCare’s reliance on more than 1,000 travelers “comes with a financial premium” and, combined with inflation in supply costs, the system has lost “about $300 million” so far. now this year.

“It’s really an unsustainable situation where we’re seeing increased demand, significant capacity issues that are magnified by some of the financial challenges,” O’Brien said.

While COVID remains an issue, Schlicher described what hospitals are facing as “death by 1,000 cuts.”

“It’s the small number of COVID patients that we see, it’s the 10-20% of long-stay patients that can be treated elsewhere,” Schlicher said. “It’s the potential for one or two cases of monkeypox down the road. But there’s no one magic bullet. We need to tackle all of these issues together.”

The hospital association said it was planning another briefing later this week, focusing on the financial difficulties suffered by hospitals.

This story was originally published July 18, 2022 2:07 p.m.

Debbie Cockrell has worked for The News Tribune since 2009. She reports on business and development, local and regional issues.

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