WA state hospitals remain over capacity, and it’s not just the fault of COVID-19

Hospitals are critical community infrastructure. Washingtonians rely on hospitals to be there to care for heart attacks, strokes, trauma, appendicitis, cancer, and other emergency and acute needs.

Across the state and across the country, hospitals are operating above their capacity, impacting their ability to provide timely acute care to all people who urgently need it.

The capacity crisis is impacting people in urban and rural areas and even in Forks. As larger hospitals reach capacity, smaller hospitals are caring for more complex patients that would normally be transferred.

The biggest factor impacting hospital capacity is patients awaiting discharge to nursing homes, adult family homes or other similar settings.

• Statewide, between 10 and 20% of hospital beds are occupied by patients who are awaiting discharge to a nursing home, adult family home or rehabilitation facility. Currently, Forks Community Hospital has four patients that are either ready for discharge or ready for placement.

• A patient with a 60-day stay displaces 20 acute care patients who stay an average of three days.

Hospitals are not good places to care for people who need long-term care. These patients are not able to go outside, have meals with others, or engage in recreational or social activities.

Patients are stuck in hospital beds due to inadequate state funding and slow state approval of long-term care placement.

Hospitals are taking steps to maintain critical health care services, including hiring additional temporary staff, closing some services, and shifting staff to meet the most critical needs.

All of this is happening while hospitals and health systems in Washington are struggling financially.

• The last federal COVID dollars were provided prior to the Delta and Omicron COVID surges.

• Costs for supplies and staff have skyrocketed while reimbursement remains stagnant.

• Most hospitals in Washington State have not had a Medicaid rate increase in 20 years.

• In the first quarter of 2022, hospitals across the state had negative operating margins. Hospitals cannot to continue to operate at this level with ongoing losses.

Short and long-term solutions are needed to ensure Washington hospitals can provide life-saving care and hospital staff can receive relief from an overburdened system.

There also continues to be a staffing shortage across the health care industry and in hospitals. This means fewer staff in primary care settings to treat illness and prevent emergency department visits and not enough long-term care staff to take care of patients ready to discharge, but not able to go home.

Hospital staff have also been particularly hard hit by the most recent COVID wave, with staff who test positive unable to work for 5-10 days.

“Additionally, if our hospital has more patients that are ready for discharge or ready for placement that require a lower level of care, we must continue to offer them the current standards of care expected within a hospital. Therefore, we continue to staff for these patients like we would any other hospital patients.”

Currently, FCH’s Long Term Care does not have any openings and is at capacity for its license.

One crucial problem at the moment is Medicaid patients are being required unnecessary guardianship

FCH is currently working to educate legislators and state leaders about the current conditions in our hospital and asking for their support on some solutions, especially moving non-acute care patients out of the hospital. You may see some of them touring the hospital.

FCH is working to hiring permanent staff to fill open positions. However, there is no pool of applicants.

They are also working with the state Department of Health and local media to encourage people to seek care in appropriate settings and avoid the Emergency Department except for emergency care.

FCH is also joining with other hospitals across the state through the Washington State Hospital Association to ask the state to work on these problems.

Kelly Thompson, RN BSN Chief Nursing Officer, Forks Community Hospital, would like the community to keep the following in mind when seeking care:Decreased beds across the state, meaning the inability to transfer patients to a higher level of care that they need in a timely manner.

Increasing wait times in the ED, as we are caring for patients who may be awaiting transfer and are more critical.

Awareness of the need to be more cautious. Access to getting the care you need has many barriers at this time.

Evaluate any illness and see your primary care provider as soon as possible. This will help save the emergency room for patients that truly need this level of care.