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Washington hospitals crowded again; Covid not the main culprit

Valley Hospital.Spokane Valley
Courtesy of MultiCare
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MultiCare officials say their eastern Washington hospitals aren't as crowded as their western Washington facilities, but they're still uncomfortably full.

Hospital officials call for the state to loosen a rule to allow faster patient transfers.

Washington hospitals are sounding the alarm again about patient capacity issues. Officials from Providence and MultiCare say they’re running as much as 130% of capacity in some of their Puget Sound area facilities.

They say Covid patient levels are a small contributor, but other factors are playing larger roles, including one bureaucratic hurdle.

“Across the state, between 10% and 20% of hospital capacity is being taken by people who are no longer need hospital care. They are stuck and they are waiting to be moved into a nursing home or other long-term post-acute care setting," said Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association.

The association's CEO, Cassie Sauer, blames some of the overcrowding on a state rule that requires patients to have designated powers of attorney to determine where they can go after their hospital stays. During a conference call with reporters Monday, she gave an example involving an agency employee.

“Zosia’s husband could consent to major surgery for Zosia, could sent to withdrawal of life support from Zosia, could take action that would end her life. He cannot consent to her moving to a long-term care facility.”

Sauer says her agency has been working for months to convince the state to ease the rule to allow loved ones who don’t have designated powers of attorney to make those decisions.

Hospital officials are also asking the state to provide more resources to long-term care facilities to cover the costs of caring more patients who have greater needs.

The overcrowding problem is more acute on the west side for now, says Kristy Carrington, the regional chief nursing officer for Providence. But she says it can send ripples east of the Cascades.

“A lot of the facilities that require transfer for certain specialty care oftentimes comes from east to west, at least for us across the Puget Sound," she said. "A lot of times when we have these specialty service needs or perhaps higher level of care, that’s where our limitations become constrained, particularly with the capacity staffing challenges that we’ve had.”

Still, the hospital systems are managing for now.

David O’Brien from MultiCare says his company’s facilities are usually still able to find room for more serious patients from rural hospitals.