COVID-19 hospitalization surge, staffing shortages push hospitals to their limits

SPOKANE, Wash. — Another spike in COVID-19 cases is exhausting hospital resources, and hospitals in the Inland Northwest say they are getting close to capacity.

The surge of new COVID-19 cases is overwhelming many health care professionals both mentally and emotionally. They’ve been dealing with the pandemic for 18 months and now have to go through another surge of people needing help

Providence Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dan Getz said it’s a catastrophe that keeps getting worse.

“When you talk to the nurses and physicians and advanced practice providers that are working in these floors with COVID patients, they’re exposed to that stress and that constant presence really on a weekly basis. And tragic deaths that could’ve been preventable. It wears on those folks,” Dr. Getz said.

With some medical professionals leaving and more people being hospitalized because of COVID, it’s made it difficult for hospitals to keep up. Providence says COVID patients particularly need more staff and resources.

Providence wasn’t able to give the number of beds available, saying it’s a “moving target.” However, the health care system says about 25 percent of COVID-19 parents are in the ICU at Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital. Between those two hospitals, Getz said they are nearing 100 patients admitted for COVID.

Getz says more than 90 percent of those in the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated. He added that the average age of people getting care because of COVID is younger. Last week, that average age was younger than 50, and Getz said they were “generally pretty healthy”, too.

Regarding capacity issues, Getz said there are other patients in the hospital who are there for other care, and some of their licensed beds are in dual rooms and some people can’t be in the same room as others.

Though the number of beds available is unknown, Getz said there are 80 patients in their hospitals who don’t need hospital-level care. They can’t go home yet, still needing some care, but there isn’t a place for them to go.

That’s why they’re working with the Medical Reserve Corps. in possibly getting staffed at skilled nursing facilities so those patients can go there.

“Hopefully get some of those patients into a more appropriate level of care which increases our ability to care for acutely ill patients in the hospital setting,” Getz said.

With colder months, holidays and the start of schools right around the corner, there is a lot of worrying about what this new wave of COVID-19 cases could mean for kids. Right now, there are two kids younger than 12 in the hospital battling the virus.

Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Mike Barsotti said pediatric doctors were able to help with other COVID-19 patients during the last few surges. However, if more kids are getting sick, that will make things harder.

Barsotti said his concern is the intersection between COVID-19, RSV and influenza. That’s because they share similar symptoms. He said it’s possible there will be a lot of admissions this winter.

“Kids can spread [COVID]. Kids can get sick from it. In all fairness though, the kids can get less sick than the adults. Though, with this delta variant, we’re beginning to see more sick kids,” Barsotti said. “We’re not sure whether they’re getting sicker because of delta or because we’re just seeing more kids get exposed to the delta virus and therefore seeing bigger numbers come through.”

Barsotti says Sacred Heart is working with the other two children’s hospitals in Washington to figure out what they can do to manage all of this.

Both Getz and Barsotti say the best line of defense is the COVID-19 vaccine, and that people should mask up. They say there are people spreading a lot of misinformation and disinformation on social media that could hurt people.

“They don’t know the names of the people they’re hurting, and they’ll never see their faces, but we do,” Getz said. “They’re hurting people and we need to really trust the physicians and the advanced practice providers and those people responsible for health care in the community to guide that dialogue with patients.”

On Thursday, 216 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and 164 people were hospitalized with it in Spokane County.

Panhandle Heath reported 111 people had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday with 84 people being treated at Kootenai Health.

RELATED: Washington hospitals see record number of COVID-19 patients

READ: Kootenai Health near capacity with COVID surge