With COVID-19 cases rising due to the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, hospitals are seeing a dramatic increase in COVID hospitalizations. The health care staffing shortages have led hospitals to be at or over their capacity to treat patients. Gov. Jay Inslee announced today that the state will be taking a number of actions to help alleviate the staffing crisis in hospitals.
The governor was joined for the virtual press conference by Umair Shah, MD, MPH, secretary, Washington State Department of Health and General Bret Daugherty, Washington State Military Department.
Deploy the National Guard
The governor has asked the Washington State National Guard to deploy 100 non-clinical personnel across the state to be deployed to the emergency departments to assist with various non-medical tasks to alleviate the crowded situation currently existing within those emergency departments.
The members of the state National Guard will be sent to:
- Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett
- Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima
- Confluence Health/Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee
- Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital in Spokane; and
- provide COVID testing teams
With the significant demand for testing, the National Guard will be deployed to areas outside of hospitals to set up testing sites in the following locations:
- Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia
- Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland
- UW Medicine/Harborview Medical Center in Seattle
- MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital in Tacoma
- There are additional FEMA testing sites that will be set up in King County and Snohomish County
Pause Non-Urgent Procedures
With hospitals being at capacity, the governor is requiring that hospitals temporarily halt non-urgent procedures so as much capacity and as many staff can be dedicated to emergent patients at the hospitals. This pause will last for four weeks.
The governor is highlighting the availability of a third-party contract that was established in August to bring needed clinical and non-clinical staff to Washington. Given the health care staffing shortages, the governor is seriously urging hospitals to utilize the contract, which still has over 300 personnel available to hospitals in Washington state.
Discharging Patients to Long-Term Care Facilities
Our state’s long term care providers also face dire shortages in staffing, which curtails their ability to admit individuals from acute care hospitals. This delay in discharge contributes to the overall strain in our hospitals, and additional steps are necessary to help with system throughput for individuals in need of long-term services and supports. The governor also announced he following actions:
- Expand agency direct care staffing and dedicate expansion staff to provide care in nursing homes to increase the capacity to admit patients from the hospital who no longer need hospital level of care.
- Deploy additional staff to perform assessments, work with patients on transition planning and selection of qualified providers and expedite financial eligibility.
- Contract with Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) at high volume hospitals to perform care transitions for individuals not relying on Medicaid for the transition to free up hospital discharge planner time and assist individuals, regardless of payer source, to transition from hospitals, access community.
- Provide resources and reduce readmissions in the community to create more capacity for short-term post hospital stays.
- Engage more guardians and provide resources to expedite guardianship proceedings. This will accelerate the transition of individuals needing a guardianship from the hospitals to less restrictive settings, while at the same time protect the rights of individuals.
- Continue staffing strike teams to support long term care facilities who are taking admissions from acute hospitals and who need additional staff support to do so.
Masks for Health Care Workers
With staff stretched thinly in hospitals, and after months of working in crowded hospitals, it is more important than ever that exhausted hospital staff are have safe and willing to come to work. The governor is requiring that hospitals operate in conventional PPE levels within the hospital so that those who are coming to work under stressed conditions are able to feel confident that they are being given every opportunity to protect themselves. The supply chain issues that once existed are no longer challenging, and the state has access to personal protective equipment, if the hospitals are not able to access it themselves.
Retired Health Care Workers
The governor is calling on retired health care workers to return to the workforce temporarily to help with the current crisis staffing. The governor is asking for retired health care workers to help with testing, vaccinating, working in the hospital or other locations. Sign up and more information is at at WAServ.org.
Investing in the Health Care Workforce
While these issues are addressing an urgent and critical need, the governor is also taking steps to address the health care workforce shortage that existed even prior to the pandemic. In his supplemental budget, the governor invested about $30 million to allow nurses, nursing assistants, and medical assistants to achieve their educational and clinical requirements without facing delays caused by limited opportunities for training. The governor is also increasing opportunities for health care workers to further their professional development to keep them in the health care workforce.