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News >  Pacific NW

Spokane ICU nurse: ‘We can control this virus, but it will take everybody’s efforts’

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 15, 2020

Clint Wallace, right, an intensive care unit nurse at Providence Sacred Heart, speaks during a news conference about COVID-19 guidelines Sunday.
Clint Wallace, right, an intensive care unit nurse at Providence Sacred Heart, speaks during a news conference about COVID-19 guidelines Sunday.

After eight months dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic as an intensive care unit nurse at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Clint Wallace is overwhelmed, exhausted and asking the community for help.

On Sunday, Wallace laid out a healthcare provider’s perspective to Washingtonians as Gov. Jay Inslee announces tightened restrictions on businesses and gatherings in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“We have been working hard for eight months now in this pandemic, and a lot of it overworked,” Wallace said, in an interview after the press conference. “Even though there may be some bed capacity in Spokane right now, we’re running beyond our capacity currently with staffing.”

Wallace explained that while there is bed capacity in Spokane, those numbers account for every bed in the hospital including operating room or post op beds, which are designed to hold patients for short periods of time, sometimes only hours.

“We can’t leave the patients alone. They have to have somebody taking care of them,” Wallace said.

Typically hospitals run at 90% to 95% staffing capacity with a constant ability for staff to pick up overtime, Wallace said.

The last shift Wallace worked, he said there were 30 patients in their 26-bed ICU, meaning some patients were housed in other units’ ICUs. Staff then have to go from one unit to another, adapting to unfamiliar equipment and new workflows.

“It has really gotten to the point where we are seeing this surge consume our resources,” Wallace said. “It has not gone away, and unfortunately it has gotten even worse.”

Caring for COVID-19 patients is time consuming compared to other patients, Wallace said, using the example of a patient with pneumonia from another illness versus a patient with pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

A nurse or aide could go in and out of a regular pneumonia patient’s room with universal precautions rather quickly, but it takes at least five minutes to put on personal protective equipment, including eye protection, mask, gown and double gloving, to even enter a COVID-19 patient’s room.

“Just to get in the room you’re talking five minutes, approximately. And then it takes 10 minutes to get out,” Wallace said. “It really puts a lot of strain on staff to take care of the COVID patients.”

Not only is it tedious to care for COVID-19 patients, but also emotionally draining, Wallace said.

Wallace said he feels like they work a little bit harder to keep severe COVID-19 patients alive long enough to say goodbye to their loved ones.

“We’re really doing everything we can to keep these patients alive so they can have a loved one say goodbye,” Wallace said.

While there has been significant community spread in recent weeks, Wallace said he has been proud of the compliance to masking and physical distancing guidelines in Spokane.

“I’ve been proud of the Spokane community. I think as a whole we’ve done well, but unfortunately it hasn’t been enough,” Wallace said. “I would hope that with the election over we can put aside our political views and our financial motives for a few weeks and try to stop this growth of virus as a community.”

With cold weather coming, Wallace said it’s not surprising people are gathering indoors. But with the majority of the spread happening at private gatherings, it’s concerning.

“We can control this virus, but it will take everybody’s efforts,” Wallace said.

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