WENATCHEE — The number of COVID-19 patients at Central Washington Hospital grew to 20 over the weekend, almost half of the hospital’s COVID-19 capacity and up from 12 a week ago.
The increased number of patients — which dropped to 16 on Wednesday — comes as COVID-19 infection rates have been rising in Chelan and Douglas counties.
While it takes two weeks for medical centers to feel the impact of surges in infections, the Wenatchee Valley has hit record levels only two days ago, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data. It means the worst for hospitals may be yet to come.
“It’s honestly very concerning and there a couple of things that make this surge a little bit different than the surges in the past,” said Dr. Jason Lake, Confluence Health chief medical officer, referring to a lack of nurses and beds at other hospitals.
Confluence Health is experiencing a nursing shortage with about 60 open positions right now and about 30 nurse assistant openings, he said. One of the big reasons for the openings is nurses are experiencing burnout and quitting or retiring.
“That’s caused them to leave their job over the last several months,” Lake said. “And that creates a staffing situation that makes it difficult to take care of all the patients that we need to.”
Also, in the past when the hospital was filling up, they would transport patients to other medical centers, he said. But all medical centers are full of patients right now, due to COVID-19.
“That means we would increase our hospital capacity and the number of patients admitted to our hospital at the exact same time we have staffing shortages to contend with,” Lake said.
The problem with this is the community is heading into a holiday season, which could be the perfect means for the virus to spread even further, he said. The latest COVID-19 surge occurred right after Halloween.
“So I have significant anxiety about that,” Lake said.
One of the things the hospital is doing to increase capacity is to reduce the amount of elective surgeries happening, he said. It includes some surgeries like heart valve replacements.
“We have not taken the step to delay cancer-related surgeries at this point, but there are some that can be delayed,” Lake said. “And the University of Washington just recently saw in the last couple days they’ve delayed or canceling surgeries that require hospitalizations following the surgeries and they included oncology or cancer surgery.”
Washington state hospitals have come to an agreement, though, that they will all work together to avoid a situation where they have to choose who lives and who dies, Lake said.
“If we get into a situation where the pandemic is that bad and all the hospitals in the state are overwhelmed at the same time, then we will enter into that together,” he said. “And what that’s called crisis standards of care.”
Confluence Health can expand its patient capacity by converting its post operative care unit at Wenatchee Valley Hospital back to hospital beds, Lake said. It is currently used to take care of people after operations.
They can also convert an outpatient neurology clinic at CWH into more hospital beds too, he said.