Increased staffing strains, delayed discharges push Washington hospital capacities past their limits

While capacity issues are not new in recent years, many hospitals in Washington state are currently "dramatically over capacity" and grappling with more strains from delayed discharges and staff shortages than previously during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state's healthcare leaders said during a media briefing July 18, according to The Seattle Times.

In the briefing, Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said the strains mean it may be more difficult for patients experiencing trauma, heart attack, strokes and other conditions requiring inpatient or emergency treatment to access timely care.

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising, state healthcare leaders largely attributed the capacity issues to factors unrelated to the virus, including delays in discharges and staffing shortages. 

"Between 10 [percent] to 20 percent of hospital capacity is being taken by people who no longer need hospital care," Ms. Briley said. "They're waiting to be moved to a nursing home or other long-term post-acute care setting."

As a result, she said hospital workers are not able to devote as much time to patients with acute care needs, and emergent and scheduled services, particularly in facilities providing the highest levels of specialty and trauma services. 

"We are doing our best, but many of our hospitals — especially in the west side of our state in the populated areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties — are more strained today than really at any other point since the pandemic began," Steve Mitchell, MD, medical director of Seattle-based Harborview Medical Center's emergency department and the Washington Medical Coordination Center, said, according to The Seattle Times

Amid the challenges, hospitals want changes to Washington state's guardianship laws so there are more timely discharges, as well as additional state funding to boost emergency staffing, according to CBS affiliate KIRO.

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