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At Seattle-area hospital, Covid grind wears on staff


In response to the surge, Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday ordered 100 National Guard members to deploy to hospital emergency departments and run Covid testing sites, including one at Harborview Medical Center. .

Inslee also suspended elective procedures, such as some surgeries, for a month across the state and encouraged retired healthcare workers to volunteer to help respond to the growing crisis.

Harborview Medical Center is one of four Seattle hospitals operated by UW Medicine, a university-affiliated medical system. Across its four campuses, the system had 194 Covid-positive patients on Thursday, 70 more than the previous record during the peak of the delta wave.

Harborview, a Level I trauma hospital usually operating at full capacity, was now expanded well beyond that.

“This is a 413-bed hospital with over 500 patients,” Lynch said.

The UW Medicine hospital system had begun converting non-clinical spaces to accommodate the swell of Covid patients, adding beds in conference rooms, hallways and surgery clinics.

Some hospital workers were sick, which further complicated matters.

Of the UW Medicine workforce, which numbers some 29,000 workers, about 600 were unable to work because they were isolated or quarantined due to omicron, Lynch said.

Hospital staff in Washington were concerned enough that they thought some facilities may soon be asking staff members not to self-isolate after a Covid infection, but to return to work as soon as they feel better.

Lynch worried that patient care was starting to falter across the state.

“I fear we are reaching crisis care standards,” he said of Washington hospitals.

Crisis norms are when hospitals are so overwhelmed that they cannot provide the typical level of treatment, and organizations must sort through resources and decide who will receive treatment and who will suffer or even die.

“The scarcest resources are staffed beds,” Lynch said. “The hands of a doctor, nurse and therapist available to a patient who needs hospital care in a bed – that is my biggest concern.”

So far, patients at Harborview Medical Center with Covid have been doing better than in previous waves of Covid.

“We’re seeing fewer people with ICU Covid,” Lynch said. Patients often required supplemental oxygen, but few required intubation or other drastic life-saving measures.

“The overwhelming majority of patients are in acute care, and it’s a mix of people coming in with things like Covid-associated pneumonia and other respiratory issues,” Lynch said.

About 40% of patients were asymptomatic for Covid and had been admitted to hospital for something else, Lynch said.

“Most of our asymptomatic Covid patients are vaccinated people,” Lynch said. “A lot of people we see with symptomatic Covid, and certainly people in intensive care, are people who are not vaccinated.”


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