Seattle hospital no longer turning away nonurgent patients

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle has again started accepting patients who are not in need of urgent care, after temporarily diverting such patients to other healthcare facilities amid capacity issues, The Seattle Times reported Aug. 30.

The hospital, part of UW Medicine, announced the decision to stop taking nonurgent patients Aug. 11, while reporting more than 560 inpatients compared to the hospital's licensed capacity of 413. Care was diverted for about seven days earlier this month, according to The Seattle Times.

"Given the unique position Harborview has in the community as the level 1 trauma center, as the disaster center, and here for all critical illness, we had to make a very difficult decision today — one that has been weighing on our minds as UW Medicine leadership," Harborview Medical Center CEO Sommer Kleweno Walley said Aug. 11, according to Fox 13. "In order to ensure that we maintain our critical capacity for any type of trauma that is needed in our region and for any type of critical illness, we have moved to going on what we call 'basic life support divert.' Patients not in need of more urgent care will be needed to be taken care of and brought by ambulances to other hospitals surrounding Harborview in the area. Harborview for this time period will no longer be able to take care of the less acute patients in order to maintain our capacity." 

During the temporary change, most of Harborview's lower-acuity patients were taken to Providence Swedish's and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health's facilities, Mark Taylor, senior associate administrator at Harborview, told The Seattle Times.

Mr. Taylor also told the newspaper that before Harborview reopened services to all patients Aug. 18, the hospital was able to move about 60 to 70 of its existing patients to its other campuses, which "helped us get back to a place where we felt we'd be able to handle some type of large event" that may result in multiple patients coming to the hospital's emergency room.

Although the hospital is back to accepting lower-acuity patients, it is still about 20 percent over capacity, according to The Seattle Times.

Harborview is among other hospitals in Washington state that have faced capacity issues. In July, state healthcare leaders said many hospitals in the state were "dramatically over capacity" and grappling with more strain from delayed discharges and staff shortages than previously during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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