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Struggling Washington hospitals cut programs and jobs

Courtesy of Astria Health
The Yakima Valley's Astria Health is just one system that has had to make tough decisions.

One Yakima provider has reduced capacity and closed programs and services.

Washington hospital leaders are looking to the legislature for relief from Covid-driven financial troubles. But until they get it, some facilities are taking steps to cut costs.

They include the Astria Health system in the Yakima Valley, which, like many providers, has battled high labor costs, especially for traveling nurses.

“Our efforts were to reduce reliance on the travel nurses and I think we’ve been pretty effective at that. We don’t have that heavy reliance that we once did," said Brian Gibbons, Astria's president and CEO.

He says Astria reduced the number of patients it cares for in its intensive care and medical-surgical units. He says those moves helped the company stabilize its labor costs. It also plans to close a maternity center at one of its hospitals and end a cardiology program with a local provider.

In Spokane, Providence has laid off eight psychiatric physicians and restructured its psychiatric inpatient department. The company has also postponed major maintenance and capital projects, including modernizing operating rooms.

The Washington State Hospital Association says the state’s hospitals, together, lost more than $1.6 billion through the first nine months of 2022. It says most facilities are experiencing some sort of financial distress. Brian Gibbons from Astria says their collective troubles have pushed hospitals to become more collaborative.

“We do things like make sure if I’ve got a cardiology program that isn’t able to be financially viable, but there’s an alternative in the community, we work with the alternative in the community and we reduce or eliminate the redundant cost in an effort to maintain that access for the community,' he said.

One pre-filed bill in Olympia (SB 5103) would reimburse hospitals that care for Medicaid patients who are ready to be discharged but who have nowhere else to go. Some patients occupy hospital beds for weeks and months before they can be placed in appropriate care facilities.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.