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Large hospitals in Washington guarantee they’ll take certain emergency transfer patients as new standards take effect

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 20, 2022

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The state’s largest regional hospitals, including Sacred Heart Medical Center and Deaconess Hospital, guarantee care for certain patients under a new protocol activated this week by the Washington Medical Coordination Center.

This means patients who need emergent, lifesaving care or procedures will be guaranteed placement at a hospital, regardless of the capacity there.

Large hospitals agreed on the measure last fall but have not implemented it until now.

The Washington Medical Coordination Center already coordinates the transfer of patients from smaller, rural hospitals to larger facilities during the pandemic, ensuring no facility gets overwhelmed. The omicron surge has placed such stress on hospitals that the hope is this protocol will allow hospitals to transfer patients quickly who need immediate care.

So far, only two or three patients met the threshold for this new protocol since it went into effect on Wednesday, Mark Taylor, the director of WMCC, told reporters this week.

“When we’re attempting to find care for patients who have time-sensitive conditions and high-acuity needs and suffered injury or illness where we need to find an immediate placement for them, it can take a significant amount of time to find resources for that care to occur,” Taylor said.

The center will still use its typical strategies to coordinate patient transfers every day. Currently, the center is getting 30 to 35 requests in a day, Taylor said. But only the most emergent situations will rise to the top for guaranteed placement. Taylor called it the “safety net” to provide that care when necessary.

Hospital officials do not expect COVID hospitalizations to peak for another two to four weeks in Eastern Washington, despite early signs of the potential slowing of the surge on the West Side. Like previously in the pandemic, eastern Washington has lagged behind the west side of the state a couple weeks.

National Guard staff is expected to arrive at Sacred Heart on Friday, to help free up clinical staff in the overburdened emergency department by transferring patients and turning over rooms. They will likely stay for the next 30 days.

Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID case in the state and country, and COVID hospitalizations are the highest they have ever been.

There are 2,345 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Washington.

The Spokane Regional Health District announced late on Thursday that the two community testing sites, at Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, will only be open for people with appointments on Friday. The district will announce when drive-up testing is available again.

Here’s a look at local

numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 1,886 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death on Thursday. Case counts are expected to fluctuate this week due to a backlog in the state’s case reporting system.

There have been 1,178 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 159 patients hospitalized in Spokane County with the virus.

The Panhandle Health District reported 277 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and no additional deaths. Idaho is also experience a backlog in reporting cases, and there are approximately 3,200 backlogged cases at the Panhandle Health District.

There are 92 Panhandle residents hospitalized, and Kootenai Health is treating 84 COVID patients currently.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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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