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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

National Guard members assist at Providence Sacred Heart as COVID-19 hospitalizations reach record levels

National Guard members help staff at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center perform mask-fitting tests during a deployment in January and February 2022 in Spokane.  (Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center courtesy)

The 19 National Guard members stationed at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center are working in a hospital that is the busiest its been with COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

“We broke records I never wanted to break,” said Susan Stacey, chief executive of Providence Health & Services’ Inland Northwest service area, in a call with reporters Tuesday. “Yesterday, we broke a record at Sacred Heart with the most COVID patients we have ever had through this pandemic. And today, we broke that record.”

More than 100 patients are hospitalized at the regional hospital with COVID-19, increasing the demand for health care providers who are “exhausted physically and emotionally,” Stacey said.

The team at Sacred Heart, part of a 100-member deployment announced by Gov. Jay Inslee late last month as cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 began surging in the state, includes Master Sgt. Ralph Godinez. Godinez said his usual job with the National Guard is in logistics, and past assignments have included work on the state’s raging wildfires.

“It’s just the ability to adapt quickly, and to overcome, and to just – even if you don’t know what you’re expecting, you can do it,” Godinez said.

Guard members have been working in nonclinical roles since their arrival Jan. 21, Stacey said. That includes stocking supplies and helping arriving patients in the emergency department, as well as assisting with contact-tracing, mask-fitting and viral testing of caregivers working at Sacred Heart. Those tasks had been handled by a specific team of providers at the hospital, Stacey said.

“Having the Guard here frees up clinical staff to be able to go back and take care of patients, or do the other duties they would typically do,” she said.

Even with the spike in patients needing care for COVID-19, Stacey said there are not currently plans to extend their assignment at Sacred Heart past Feb. 19.

“We are grateful to have them here until the middle of February,” she said.

Members of the Guard have worked well with the hospital staff, Godinez said.

“They’re meshing well with the day-to-day operations,” he said. “They’ve become part of the team here.”

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 687 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

There are 211 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane.

The Panhandle Health District reported 264 new COVID cases on Tuesday. The district continues to have a backlog of about 4,900 cases to confirm.

There are 103 Panhandle residents hospitalized, and Kootenai Health is treating 97 patients with COVID-19.

Health departments continue to deal with record case counts and data, making data reporting fluctuate, and departments encourage evaluating trends instead of individual numbers or cases.