Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital will halt non-emergency inpatient surgeries as it grapples with an escalating number of COVID-19 patients and staffing shortages, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marty Brueggemann said Friday.

Emergency surgeries will continue, as will outpatient surgeries that do not take away from hospital resources, with the goal of relieving pressure.

As of Friday morning, the hospital had 51 patients with COVID-19, a quarter of all patients, Brueggemann said. Twenty-one patients were being held in the emergency room Friday morning because of a lack of available beds. Hospital staff held one additional patient in the surgery recovery area.

Staff shortages

As of Friday morning, 85 hospital staff members were out due to COVID or COVID exposure. Brueggemann said the hospital was short 12 nurses and eight nursing assistants on Friday who were scheduled but could not come in. All clinical nursing managers have been taken off administrative work and reassigned to bedside nursing duties.

Halting elective surgeries should free up some nurses for work in emergency services, he said.

“We’re repurposing everybody at the front lines,” he said.

Brueggemann made a plea for any additional nurses who might be able to help to contact the hospital.

“If there are any nurses out there who have either retired or not currently working and you would like to assist with this pandemic, we do need help,” he said.

He referred anyone interested to Memorial’s human resources page.

Astria Health

COVID cases have skyrocketed in Yakima County in recent weeks because of the more contagious delta variant. The Yakima Health District reported 301 new cases on Thursday, and 296 cases on Friday. The county had 890 cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks, the health district reported.

The increase in COVID patients is also being felt at Astria Health hospitals in Toppenish and Sunnyside.

Astria Toppenish Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Terra Palomarez said that across both hospitals, all 32 beds for acute-care patients were full Friday, with an additional four patients boarding in the emergency room. Eighteen of those patients have COVID.

The two hospitals have about a dozen staff members out because they have COVID or have been exposed. Palomarez said that staffing shortages are felt particularly hard in rural health care facilities.

“It really only takes one health care worker to make an impact,” she said.

The hospitals are supplementing with travel nurses and contract health workers, she said.

She said that elective surgeries are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Palomarez emphasized that patients who need care should not hesitate to seek it, even with current conditions.

Looking forward

Halting some surgeries creates a backup of medical procedures at Yakima Valley Memorial, Brueggemann said.

“This is not something we want to do,” Brueggemann said. “This, in effect, kicks the can down the road because at some point we do have to double back and do those surgeries.”

Hospital staff also are looking for ways to consolidate services and move them offsite to free up additional space and staff, Brueggemann said.

On average there have been about 30 people waiting in the emergency room in recent days, according to Brueggemann. Hospital staff try to address the patients most immediately in need of care.

If conditions worsen, Brueggemann said the hospital could employ crisis standards of care, which would involve patients being treated by people who are not fully trained medical professionals.

“That’s where you’re going to be cared for by somebody who’s not trained to care for you,” Brueggemann said, giving the example of an administrative assistant being given basic training.

Brueggemann urged community members to get vaccinated and emphasized the safety and effectiveness of the COVID vaccines.

He said about 90% of patients coming in for COVID care are unvaccinated and the vaccinated patients often have other underlying health issues.

“If we don’t stop this, if we don’t shut off the flow of patients at this hospital, people are not going to get the care they need and that’s not just for COVID, that’s all medical conditions,” he said.

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