‘We truly don’t have beds at times’: Rural hospitals struggle to keep up with COVID surge

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — Community hospitals are stretched thin as more people flood in for care. Samaritan Hospital in Moses Lake is seeing more patients than they have in months. Now, they’re running out of resources, staff and space to keep up.

Samaritan is the largest hospital in Grant County. They have 50 beds, which is usually more than enough space– but not anymore. Back in December, the highest number of people sick with COVID was 10 patients. Now, it’s at 27. Hospital leaders were expecting a surge back in the spring, but it never came. The surge is sweeping through the community now.

“If the hospitals are full of COVID, it’s going to be hard to take care of other patients,” said Theresa Sullivan, Samaritan’s CEO. “It’s a really serious situation that we all need to take seriously and really try to get under control.”

They need to get it under control because they’re worried about being able to give care for other people who need it — like car accidents, stroke, or people having a heart attack.

“Right now, we’re able to take great care of everybody, but if at some point we don’t have the staff or we don’t have the beds because COVID continues to surge or grows in surging, that could impact other things,” Sullivan said.

Since larger hospitals are also struggling with capacity issues, they can’t transfer patients like normal. Community hospitals aren’t equipped to give certain types of specialized care, but they’re forced to do that in some circumstances if they can’t find a hospital with enough space to take them.

“The reality is the hospital’s full,” Sullivan said. “There’s no denying that.”

“We truly don’t have beds at times,” said Dr. Andrea Carter, the Chief Medical Officer at Samaritan Healthcare.

Both Carter and Sullivan say they’re taking the surge day by day. They’ve set up makeshift cots outside the emergency room to use if all the beds are taken. When people come in, they’re also waiting longer to get care. A normal wait time in the ER was two to three hours. Now, people are waiting anywhere from four to eight hours.

Another concern is staffing. With the governor’s mandate, anyone working in healthcare has to be vaccinated against Covid-19. So far, only about 77-percent of the team at Samaritan is vaccinated. They’re worried losing people could further hinder the hospital.

“Right now, we’re able to take great care of everybody, but if at some point we don’t have the staff or we don’t have the beds because Covid continues to surge or grows in surging, that could impact other things,” Sullivan said. “If we really did lose those other staff, that would be very concerning.”

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