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- 23rd Governor of Washington, United States
OLYMPIA, WA — Gov. Jay Inslee will send 100 members of the Washington National Guard to several hospitals across the state to help relieve overwhelmed facilities and to set up new testing locations, the governor announced Thursday. Inslee's latest orders also include a month-long pause on non-emergency procedures, which will be left up to each physician's discretion.
During a news conference in Olympia, the governor noted that hospitalization rates had already pushed Washington's health care system to the point of crisis warned the elevated number of patients is likely to persist for weeks even after omicron cases peak, which has yet to happen.
"We currently have over 2,000 COVID hospitalizations across the state, and COVID patients today make up about 18 percent of all the people in our hospitals and 22 percent in our ICUs," Inslee said. "Unfortunately, those numbers are going to continue to climb."
The governor said roughly 80 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 were unvaccinated.
Aside from the influx of patients, the governor said hospitals are contending with preexisting staffing shortages, along with absences from staffers becoming ill with COVID-19 themselves. The Washington National Guard will lend a hand and work to establish new testing sites outside several major hospitals.
"I am ordering 100 members of the Washington State National Guard — this is non-clinical personnel — across the state to help hospitals to assist in non-medical tasks, to alleviate issues, particularly in their emergency departments, and also to add testing capacity at these hospitals," Inslee said. "We know the emergency rooms are full; more people are showing up all the time. We want to help hospitals handle the volume of patients and we think that the guard can help in a variety of tasks."
For the next month, some guard members will assist emergency departments in Everett, Spokane, Yakima Balley and Wenatchee, while others will stand up new testing sites outside emergency departments in Olympia, Tacoma, Richland and Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. The governor estimated it would take about a week to stand up the new testing operations.
Inslee said the state is also moving to contract additional staffing at long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, to provide more space for patients who are awaiting discharge from the hospital but have nowhere to go.
The governor also renewed his call for retired health care workers to consider pitching in however they can, whether that is temporarily working in a health care facility or helping staff vaccination and testing sites. Anyone able to volunteer can sign up to help on Washington's Emergency Register of Volunteers.
Looking ahead, Inslee said his supplemental budget also includes $30 million to help remove barriers and improve training opportunities for future nurses, to help alleviate staffing shortages beyond the latest surge.
"This is a long-term as well as a short-term problem," Inslee said. "We've had a nursing shortage and other personnel shortage for some period of time. We need to invest more to increase the pipeline of health care workers in our state."