Surgeries paused, National Guard deployed to assist hospitals

OLYMPIA – The Washington National Guard is deployed to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and elsewhere in the state to support emergency medical rooms overwhelmed by the recent surge in the coronavirus, Governor Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

And to relieve staff for patients who need emergency care, the governor is ordering a four-week break from non-urgent medical procedures across the country.

Speaking at a press conference, he said his actions are in response to hospital directors who say they are in a crisis situation as they try to cope with a dramatic increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions and a serious shortage of staff to treat patients will. This week, local officials reported Snohomish County’s intensive care unit capacity at 95% and the hospital’s overall capacity at 97%.

“So there are very few beds available,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish Health District health officer, on Tuesday.

The steps that Inslee announced are a reminder of those it took in the earliest days of the 2020 pandemic.

He said 100 National Guard members would be deployed across the country.

Some will be performing non-medical tasks to alleviate the “crowded and chaotic situation” in emergency rooms in Providence, Everett and hospitals in Spokane, Yakima and Wenatchee.

Troops are also being deployed to assist COVID-19 testing teams outside of hospitals in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Richland. Inslee also confirmed that Snohomish County will soon have a mass vaccination site. Details of where and when it operates have not been released. Local guides assume it could be ready to go by the end of the month.

Inslee has also set its sights on another challenge: people who do not have to go to the hospital, but are still there because there is neither space nor staff for them in a care facility. In Providence, Everett, this includes over 100 people in hospital beds waiting to be discharged.

He said the state will help increase nursing home staff to accommodate more of these patients. And, the governor said, more people will be deployed to help patients transition to long-term care, freeing up the hospital beds they need.

Officials did not suspend emergency procedures and also restricted visits at the Providence Regional Medical Center last month. And an emergency command center was set up to coordinate personnel and materials, said chief physician Dr. Jay Cook told reporters earlier this week.

He described that “non-traditional” rooms were opened at Everett Hospital to accommodate a surge in patients, although he noted that none of these rooms are non-clinical rooms such as conference rooms.

“These new resources, which are being made available to support the health of Snohomish County’s residents, are both timely and life-saving,” District President Dave Somers said in a statement. “We are grateful that Gov. Inslee recognized the need and acted accordingly.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; [email protected]; Twitter: @dospueblos.