COVID cases are declining but hospitals still face staffing shortages

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington’s mask mandate is lifting in one month and hospitals are slowly emerging and overcoming the omicron wave.

Cases are declining and elective surgeries are picking up at Sacred Heart Medical Center, but staffing shortages continue to be an ongoing struggle. It’s impacting management and the healthcare providers who are overworked.

“Since the start of this last wave, there are over 600 [surgeries] we had to delay and if you went back to when we had our first big wave, it’s in the thousands,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dan Getz.

COVID cases are are down, but healthcare workers cannot let out a sigh of relief just yet. Now, they are looking at a backlog of surgeries.

“It’s going to take us a lot of time to catch up and then, unfortunately, I’m sure we’ll see cases where if we had the chance to deliver care earlier, outcomes may have been different,” Getz said.

Getz said staffing shortages aren’t a new problem. They were happening before the pandemic, but the pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

There is a bill going through the state Senate right now that is creating optimism and concern across the healthcare world.

“We have some very legitimate concerns about what this would do to hospital capacity across the state,” Getz said.

House Bill 1868, put forward by Spokane Representative Marcus Riccelli, seeks to improve worker safety and patient healthcare facilities by addressing staff needs, overtime, meals, rest breaks and enforcement. But not everyone feels this is the solution they are in desperate need of right now.

READ: Healthcare worker-patient ratio the focus of Rep. Riccelli’s new bill

“We’ve asked healthcare workers to move mountains. They’re burning out at record numbers,” Riccelli said.

Vicki Mikhailenko, a nurse at Sacred Heart, feels that pressure.

“When my shift ends, I am devastated because I know I was unable to provide the quality of care they deserve because of short staffing and that knowledge is crushing and demoralizing,” she said.

The Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee will decide whether to move the bill forward in the next few days. Even if it gets that far, there will be a few more steps before it is made law.