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'It's a scary situation': COVID-19 outbreak exceeding hospital capacity in Yakima County

Virginia Mason Memorial Medical Center in Yakima. (Photo: KIMA-TV){p}{/p}
Virginia Mason Memorial Medical Center in Yakima. (Photo: KIMA-TV)

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YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Yakima Health District says the healthcare system in Yakima County was exceeding capacity due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and that hospitals were running out of beds. But Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital tells KIMA-TV the problem for them isn't a lack of beds, but rather a shortage of staff to care for patients.

One thing a staffing shortage means is more people having to be transferred out of our local hospitals to places like Seattle, and Dr. Tanny Davenport at Virginia Mason Memorial says that puts a strain on resources in the Yakima community.

"There has never been a time in Virginia Mason Memorial's history where we've had this number of critical care patients in our hospital, and that is directly related to COVID-19 infections," says Davenport.

Davenport adds they have always had enough beds at Virginia Mason Memorial; the problem they face now is having enough staff to care for their critically ill patients.

"We know that COVID-19 patients take a lot more care to take care of them, and because of that we're finding challenges in staffing with both nursing and other support staff for those patients," says Davenport.

On Monday, for example, Davenport says staffing wasn't a problem, at least as of early Monday afternoon, but things could change. On Saturday he said that in the course of two days, 22 people had to be transferred out of their hospital.

"What we're noticing is for critical care patients and those that are really taking up those high level of resources, those are the patients that at some points we have to transfer during the day because we don't have enough nurses or others to take care of those patients," says Davenport.

And the health district says over the course of last week, all hospitals in the valley reported critical staffing shortages.

As of Monday afternoon, Davenport reported the hospital had 45 COVID-19 patients, 12 of them on ventilators, saying that's twice as many patients in the hospital as they had just a month ago.

"It is a scary situation," says Davenport.

Davenport says more transfers take a lot of resources out of our community, like ambulances. He says if an ambulance and its team take a patient to Seattle, it could take up to 8 hours before it's back here, and able to respond to 911 calls.

"We want those resources here locally to take care of our community when there's emergencies," says Davenport.

And those transfers won't just affect COVID patients.

"That also means that patients who require hospitalization for other things are going to need to be sent elsewhere because we don't have the workforce to take care of them," says Davenport.

He says their staff is stretched thin.

"Staff are putting in long hours and coming in to cover extra shifts because again we need more critical care resources than we've ever had," says Davenport.

And he adds that hiring more workers though isn't as easy as it may sound.

"These are highly-trained individuals, and it's not like we have a reservoir of other skilled staff elsewhere in the community that we can borrow from," says Davenport.

He says their projections for the next two weeks show that things could get even worse - that hospitalizations for COVID patients could double, meaning they could hit 90 COVID patients by the 4th of July.

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Davenport says people are still able to come to the hospital to get emergency care if they need it, but for critically ill patients, they're the ones who are more likely to be transferred elsewhere.

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