National Guard members will be activated to assist at Washington state hospitals

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  • Jay Inslee
    Jay Inslee
    23rd Governor of Washington, United States

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that he will activate the National Guard to help Washington hospitals that are facing a widespread shortage of workers amid the omicron surge.

Inslee will activate 100 non-clinical National Guard personnel to assist with “various non-medical tasks” and to provide COVID testing teams to testing sites outside hospitals.

Multiple hospitals will receive teams to alleviate non-medical staffing in their emergency departments: Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Confluence Health/Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital in Spokane.

COVID-19 testing teams will be deployed to several locations: Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, UW Medicine/Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

King County and Snohomish County are also setting up additional FEMA testing sites.

The transmissibility of the omicron variant has led to a dramatic increase in hospitalizations and healthcare staffing shortages, Inslee said. Hospital leaders and physicians have declared they are in a “crisis,” as facilities were already full prior to the 75% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Inslee made several additional announcements at his Thursday news conference.

A four-week pause will be put on non-urgent medical procedures so capacity and staff can accommodate emergent patients. Some hospitals such as UW Medicine and Virginia Mason in Seattle already had halted non-urgent procedures.

The governor said the state also is facing a shortage of long-term care providers, which prevents care facilities from admitting patients being released from hospitals. In response, Inslee is trying to assist in a few ways.

To increase the ability to admit patients from hospitals, the governor wants to expand staffing for direct care as well as dedicate an expansion staff to provide care in nursing homes. He also wants to expand staff needed to assist patients with transition planning and assessments, and expedite financial eligibility. Additionally, Inslee wants to contract with Area Agencies on Aging for care transitions.

Inslee also is requiring hospital staff to operate “in conventional PPE levels” to fully protect themselves. When hospitals are unable to acquire proper protective gear, he said the state has full access to all PPE.

Inslee called on retired healthcare workers to return to the field to help with testing and vaccinating, or to work in hospitals.

A third-party contract was established in August to encourage clinical and non-clinical staff to work in Washington. Inslee urged hospitals to use the contract, noting there are 300 available personnel to assist with the staffing shortage.

The announcement comes a day after the state crossed the threshold of 1 million cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began. More than 10,000 Washingtonians have died from the virus.

According to DOH, 63 percent of the state has been vaccinated.

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