Comment: Nearing a crisis, our hospitals need your help

Vaccination is the best way to help county hospitals dealing with a surge in covid patients.

By Darren Redick and Jay Cook / For The Herald

We are writing to appeal to our neighbors and community members across Northwest Washington with a request for support as we face rapid increases in covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. The delta variant is undoing our progress toward recovery; and this wave of the pandemic is stretching our caregivers and facilities up to and beyond our limits.

If you read no further, I hope you will hear this plea: If you are not yet fully vaccinated, please get your vaccine today. Do your part to save your own life, help your community, and to help us.

Where we are today: The delta variant is driving new cases up to near record highs, and hospitals in Snohomish County — including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett — are seeing a surge of covid patients requiring intensive care.

During August, Providence’s Everett hospital admitted more than 320 patients with covid-19. Of those patients, almost 75 percent were unvaccinated. In that same time period, 72 covid-positive patients were treated in our Intensive Care Unit, where we treat patients facing life-threatening conditions; 96 percent of those patients were unvaccinated.

Our primary challenge at present is accommodating high demand for care in our ICU. This demand is driven both by still-increasing numbers of covid patients (most not vaccinated) and increasing requests from the Washington Medical Coordination Center to accept transfers of patients, most needing ICU care, from small and critical access hospitals across the region and state.

What we’re doing to adapt: To manage these extremely high volumes, we set up a satellite ICU with an additional eight beds and staffed them with ICU-trained nurses. That satellite unit filled in a week. We have now opened another satellite unit, with an additional 10 ICU beds. It is important to note that we can only use these beds if we have sufficient qualified staff. Only a relatively small subset of registered nurses have telemetry and/or ICU training and experience. We’re offering generous financial incentives to our current staff and recruiting nurses from staffing agencies to temporarily fill staffing gaps.

Recently, we’ve begun to postpone more and more treatments and procedures of non-emergency cases, mainly due to these ICU space and staff limits. These are important procedures being delayed, such as heart surgeries, cancer surgeries and more.

In addition, we are working closely with our Providence partners and other health systems across the state to allocate demand and try to prevent any given facility from exceeding its capacity of space, staff and supplies.

However, if the demand for inpatient care continues its upward trend, we will reach a point where our contingency staffing and census management measures will not be enough. We will have reached a crisis point.

What’s ahead: If we do reach a crisis point as defined by the Department of Health, we may institute Scarce Resource Management and Crisis Standards of Care. (Learn more about these standards at tinyurl.com/CrisisCareWA.)

These standards are designed to guide us during situations, including pandemics, when certain medical resources may become scarce and prioritization of care may need to be considered.

How you can help: Again: If you are not yet fully vaccinated, we urge you to get your vaccine today. You can find a covid-19 vaccination appointment near you by going to vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.

It is time to redouble key behaviors that keep the virus from spreading. Please:

• Wear a mask, maintain physical distance from others and wash your hands often.

• Keep gatherings small and outside whenever possible. Avoid large outdoor gatherings like concerts, fairs or festivals.

• Stay home if you are sick or exposed to covid-19 and get tested if you have symptoms.

We are at a critical time in this pandemic and we each need to do our part to save lives and keep our health systems from being overloaded.

Darren Redick is chief executive of Providence Northwest. Dr. Jay Cook is chief medical officer at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

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