National Guard personnel will be deployed to assist with nonmedical tasks at Yakima Valley Memorial and other hospitals around Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference Thursday.

About 100 non-clinical National Guard personnel will be available statewide to help with nonmedical tasks, Inslee said.

Memorial, along with hospitals in Everett, Wenatchee and Spokane, will receive help to alleviate pressure on crowded emergency departments, he said.

Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty said all members should be in place by Jan. 24.

Dr. Marty Brueggemann, the chief medical officer at Memorial, said the hospital is seeing staff shortages in all types of roles and said the help will be welcome.

“A good portion of these people out sick are clinical. They’re nurses, they’re (certified nursing assistants). There’s even doctors and other providers included in those numbers,” Brueggemann said. “But it’s just as harmful to us to lose someone who isn’t clinical, someone in lab or someone anywhere.”

He said the National Guard personnel will be able to help with registration, cleaning, traffic control and more.

Non-urgent procedures paused

Inslee said the staffing crisis has coincided with an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, and many hospitals around the state are at or over their capacity to treat patients as COVID cases rise.

Inslee said that there are more than 2,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, and that they make up about 18% of all patients and 22% of patients in intensive care units. He said that about 80% of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.

Because of that strain, Inslee said he is also requiring hospitals to pause non-urgent procedures for four weeks. The temporary measure will allow hospitals to dedicate resources and staff to emergent patients, he said.

Brueggemann said Memorial already has paused elective procedures.

“Everything that we do has some level of urgency,” Brueggemann said. “We may have to, depending on what (Inslee) says, further constrict what we consider urgent, and we’ll do so accordingly if that’s the case.”

Staffing

Inslee said much of the problem is a staffing shortage problem, “both because of the increase of cases and because people who work in these hospitals are themselves becoming ill.”

“The staff shortages have pushed hospitals beyond their capacity,” he said.

National Guard members will be deployed to the emergency departments at: Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Yakima Valley Memorial, Confluence Health/Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital in Spokane.

They will also set up testing sites outside of Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, UW Medicine/Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital in Tacoma.

Inslee’s announcement comes a day after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she was deploying 1,200 Oregon National Guard members to more than 50 hospitals across the state.

Inslee also urged hospitals to use a third-party contract that brings in out-of-state clinical and non-clinical staff to help with health care staffing. Inslee’s office said there are more than 300 personnel available to hospitals under the contract the state entered into last August.

Inslee said that help is also needed for the state’s long-term care providers who are facing shortages in staffing, affecting their ability to admit people from acute care hospitals.

He said that several steps are being taken to address that, including deploying additional staff to work with patients on transition planning, and providing resources to expedite guardianship proceedings to accelerate the movement of people who need a guardian from hospitals to less restrictive settings.

Inslee is also calling on retired health care workers to return to the workforce temporarily, asking for those who can help with testing, vaccinating, working in the hospital or other locations to sign up at WAServ.org.

Memorial also is using nursing staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Kate Smith of the Yakima Herald-Republic and Rachel La Corte of the Associated Press reported this article.

Contact Kate Smith at katesmith@yakimaherald.com.