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Elective procedures expected to resume soon now that Department of Defense team helping Sacred Heart Medical Center

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 20, 2021

John Klim, center, a civilian physician at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, speaks to U.S. Navy Lt. Tyler Witzel, left, assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command, San Diego, and Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Saint, right, assigned to NMRTC, Bremerton, Wash., about a patient’s assessment during COVID response operations Monday at Providence Sacred Heart. The sailors arrived in Spokane on Saturday and have been integrating to support the hospital.  (Sgt. Yesenia Barajas/U.S. Army)
John Klim, center, a civilian physician at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, speaks to U.S. Navy Lt. Tyler Witzel, left, assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command, San Diego, and Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Saint, right, assigned to NMRTC, Bremerton, Wash., about a patient’s assessment during COVID response operations Monday at Providence Sacred Heart. The sailors arrived in Spokane on Saturday and have been integrating to support the hospital. (Sgt. Yesenia Barajas/U.S. Army)

Sacred Heart Medical Center is getting much-needed relief from a Department of Defense medical team that’s expected to enable providers to start offering operations and procedures that were delayed by the most recent COVID wave.

The Department of Defense team, made up of service members from naval facilities in Bremerton and California, is a highly skilled team of 20 medical personnel, including 14 nurses, four doctors and two respiratory specialists.

These workers are spread throughout the hospital but largely concentrated in the intensive care unit, treating COVID and non-COVID patients alike.

The ICU needed the most support, said Dan Getz, chief medical officer at Providence hospitals in Spokane.

“ICU space is absolutely our greatest need, and that’s the most challenging thing we’ve had to deal with since the start of the surge,” Getz said.

The ICU still has a high number of COVID patients on ventilators, most of whom are unvaccinated, Getz said.

When the delta variant hit the community hard, Providence pulled anesthesiology teams from operating rooms to help treat the increase in COVID patients, delaying many operations and procedures as a result.

The Department of Defense team will help these staff members slowly go back to the operating rooms, where they can begin to start those surgeries again.

Getz said the hope is by the beginning of November, Providence will be back to 80% of normal operations for surgeries, noting there is still a backlog, so there will still be some delays.

The Department of Defense team will work at Sacred Heart Medical Center for a month, and if Providence requests an extension for help through the state and federal government, could stay for longer.

Providence requested federal support in August when the delta variant was causing an explosive rise in hospitalizations locally, but the FEMA-supported team was dispatched just late last week.

Even two months after requesting help, hospitalizations are still higher than they were during last winter’s surge.

“We’re still at 100 patients at Sacred Heart and Holy Family with COVID-19, which is still greater than what we experienced in the surge of December of last year, so we’re so, so grateful for the support,” Peg Currie, chief executive at Providence, said Wednesday.

The Department of Defense team is temporary support, so hospital administrators are concerned about staffing in the future.

Providence hospitals and clinics in Spokane and Stevens counties had a 97% compliance rate with the governor’s vaccine mandate.

MultiCare hospitals and clinics statewide, which includes those in Spokane, had a 99% compliance rate with the governor’s vaccine mandate.

These rates are much higher than hospital systems experienced even a few months ago.

“I think the number of people vaccinated definitely improved with the mandate,” Getz said.

Beyond the mandate, however, hospital leaders are worried about other ways staff members are leaving, due to retirement or burnout from the coronavirus pandemic.

“My ongoing concern would be the staffing shortage we’re seeing,” Currie said.

A look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 277 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths.

There have been 886 deaths due to COVID-19 among Spokane County residents.

There are 150 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane County.

The Panhandle Health District reported 333 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths. There are still more than 2,700 backlogged cases.

There have been 564 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 143 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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