Hospitals Near Capacity Limits As Fourth COVID-19 Wave Hits Inland Northwest

Aug 19, 2021

Representatives from Providence Health say the hospital system is straining under the latest wave of Covid-19 patients.
Credit Rebecca White/SPR

Healthcare providers are raising the alarm as the Inland Northwest hits its highest hospitalization level since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re at record levels for COVID, so we have a new disease we never had to worry about caring for in the past, and we’re still caring for all those other diseases that were difficult to care for on their own before that," said Dr. Dan Getz, the chief medical officer for Providence Health Care, in a briefing Thursday. The system is strained by the spread of Covid-19 in this community.

“We’re at the point now that we’re really stretched thin, and if we don’t do something to halt this disease, we’re going to be in a position in Washington State, potentially in a week or two, where we no longer have the capacity to care for patients," he said.

He said the hospital is also getting calls from facilities in other parts of the country looking for a place to send patients. Currently about 1,240 people are hospitalized in Washington State, compared to the previous high of 1,100 in December, according to the Washington State Hospital Association. 

Getz said he’s also concerned by soaring community spread, and the number of younger people getting hospitalized.

“If we don’t act now, we could certainly be in a similar situation of what we’re seeing in some of the Southern states. We have a vaccine that is safe, that is incredibly effective, and really there’s no reason at this point not to get it," he said.

Getz noted that more than 90% of people in the hospital aren’t vaccinated.

Hospitals across Washington State are also struggling to place patients once they’ve recovered enough that they don’t need hospital care, but are still to sick to send home.

In a Washington State Hospital Association briefing, the organization's CEO, Cassie Sauer, said the state is facing challenges of where to place those patients.

“We are working on ways to decompress the hospitals right now and the biggest action we are working on is getting out of the hospital people who no longer need medical care," she said.

That means patients who have nowhere else to go, no nursing home or rehab facility and no family or friends with whom to stay.

“Some of them aren’t there for very long. They could stay for, like, three days post-medical care. Sometimes it could be six months or a year, post-medical care," she said.

She says the state is working with health care facilities to find places for people like this to go and clear space for more acute patients.

“The Department of Social and Health Services is working to move out the people who need long-term services and supports. The Health Care Authority is working out patients who are on Medicaid. The state’s Medicaid managed care plans have been instructed by the state to respond to requests for transfer within 24 hours, including on the weekends, from hospitals. That’s typically a process that can take multiple days," Sauer said.

She says the governor’s office and state health agencies have been coordinating with the funding agencies to coordinate and pay for these initiatives.

“That is work that’s critical. We will have plenty of capacity if we can move those patients out," she said.