Washington state scrambles to secure hospital beds, supplies

SEATTLE (AP) — Health officials across Washington state are scrambling to secure hospital beds, staff and critical supplies as the number of people sickened by the new coronavirus continues to grow.

Washington has about 13,000 hospital beds, which won’t be enough to support the expected surge in COVID-19 cases, so officials are implementing a list of measures to expand capacity. More than 1,100 people have tested positive in Washington state and 67 have died, the most in the U.S.

“Hospitals are doing all they can to reduce their in-patient numbers so they can be ready to accept more patients,” said Amy Reynolds, a spokesperson with the Washington Department of Health. “Our objective is to maintain patient care within licensed health care facilities.”

Health officials also sought supplies for workers — masks, gowns, gloves — from the federal government every time they get the green light to do so, which is about once a week, according to Jessica Baggett, a spokeswoman for the state’s joint information center.

As of Wednesday, the government has only sent about 25% of the gear they ordered.

The health department has received 543 requests for personal protective equipment from health care facilities across the state, but they’ve only been able to fulfill 54 of those requests – about 10%, Baggett said.

The supplies are going to top-priority sites, which include long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases, hospitals serving multiple COVID-19 patients, EMS transporting coronavirus cases, and public health professionals providing care to COVID-19 patients, Baggett said.

“We recognize that many communities are currently responding to an unprecedented global public health emergency that has overwhelmed their ability to respond,” she said. “To support this response across the state, we will distribute 20 percent of our PPE equally among all counties with active cases.”

The virus has been confirmed in 20 Washington counties, with the most in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

Another critical piece of equipment that’s in short supply are ventilators. Patients with COVID-19 require a “very specific type” of ventilator and the state is trying to procure them in different ways, Baggett said.

There are about 750 ventilators on the west side of the state, and about 350 on the east side of the state, but these numbers will constantly change, she said. The state has requested additional machines from the federal government and is looking for options to buy another 1,500 to place across the state, she said.

Some hospitals are going directly to the public for help.

Seattle Children’s hospital posted a notice on its Facebook page asking for curbside donations of unopened boxes of masks. They provided an address where the supplies can be left, which is different from the hospital just for safety.

“Seattle Children’s is actively working to conserve and to acquire more protective equipment for its providers, patients and caregivers,” the post said. “Supplies are limited due to the impact on manufacturing and a dramatic increase in global demand. If you have access to any style of basic isolation mask such as the one pictured below, we could use the support.”

Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s working to secure more hospital beds and looking for alternative locations to boost capacity. They’ll also need more physicians and more nurses.

“One of the things we’re doing is we’re finding a way to expedite retired medical professionals to come back into service, and nurses and physicians who might be in other states today to have an expedited process to get their license to come into the state,” he said.

The health department is also considering relaxing some regulations to allow hospitals to accommodate more patients, Baggett said.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane is home to a special hospital unit designed to care for patients who have contracted extremely highly contagious diseases like Ebola. All other state hospitals use isolation rooms to treat coronavirus patients.

The Special Pathogens Unit at Sacred Heart is one of 10 infectious disease treatment centers in the country. It has 10 beds and serves Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska, said Jennifer Semenza, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Four of the COVID-19 patients who were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were sent to the SPU back in February and one remains, Semenza said.

Counties across the state are securing beds for people who have tested positive but are not sick enough to be hospitalized.

King County, which has seen the highest number of cases and deaths in the state, has purchased and leased motels for quarantined people. Officials also bought a large tent to be placed on county-owned land in the Eastgate area of Bellevue, said spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton.

The county also owns 14 modular units that are being placed on county-owned land in North Seattle and White Center. Each unit has four bedrooms and a bathroom, she said. Together they’ll provide 56 units for isolated people.

The purchased motel in Kent has 85 beds and a motel that will be leased in Issaquah has 100 rooms, Hamilton said. As of Wednesday, there were three King County residents in quarantine at the Kent facility.

Hospitals are also setting up clinics outside their facilities to screen people coming in for care in the hopes of isolating the COVID-19 cases.

Carole Peet, CEO of Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima, said their clinic screens for coughs and fever.

“We’re taking proactive measures to protect our health care workers,” Peet said. “They are our most vital resource right now.”

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