The state won’t reopen Astria Regional Medical Center right now as it sends reinforcement medical staff to the state’s long-term care centers instead.
Gov. Jay Inslee and retired Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, the head of the state’s COVID-19 health care response team, announced Saturday that 100 U.S. Health and Human Services personnel initially assigned to reopen the Yakima hospital are being redirected to long-term health care centers around the state.
Astria Regional will continue to be held in reserve in case it is needed, according to a news release. But Inslee said the decision was “a positive move” in the state’s efforts against the pandemic.
“Thanks to the cooperation of communities and businesses across Washington, ‘stay home, stay healthy’ is slowing the spread of the virus,” Inslee was quoted as saying in the release. “But we can’t let up now, and we need to continue to explore a range of options and assess the best use of our alternate care facilities to ensure they are always available when the need is greatest.”
Bono said the decision was made in consultation with labor, hospital and local health leaders, as well as the Regional Emergency and Disaster Health care Coalition, the release said.
Bono said she met with Yakima Health District officials and visited the facility Thursday before making the recommendation to Inslee.
“We are comfortable with Yakima’s hospital bed capacity,” Bono said. “Focusing on those that are most vulnerable will ultimately reduce the number of people who need hospitalization due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Astria Regional, which closed in January as part of its parent company’s bankruptcy, was to be used for non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up bed space at Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima and other hospitals.
Virginia Mason Memorial can have as many as 250 beds, and had 153 patients as of Saturday, said hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Teagarden.
In an interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic on Friday, Memorial CEO Carole Peet said the hospital is still expecting a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in Yakima County over the next two to three weeks. While stay-home orders are helping limit the spread of the coronavirus, she stressed the importance of not going out.
“I am so concerned about the warm weather and the upcoming holidays, that could again create a spike,” she said. “It is just as prevalent as it was a week ago.”
She said people at the state level have been concerned about the infection rate in Yakima County, and testing is still limited locally. She said new data suggests many people with the illness may not have symptoms. If they are out and about, they may be infecting others without knowing it.
She mentioned tragic stories nationally where the coronavirus has spread undetected at family gatherings. Just because it’s family, doesn’t mean it’s safe, she said.
“Those are heart-wrenching stories and we don’t want to hear any of those stories in Yakima,” she said.
Yakima Health District officials also stressed the need to continue social isolation.
“Looking at our data, we are confident that we have started to flatten the curve locally, and have likely blunted and delayed the peak of the wave of infections in Yakima County,” said Dr. Teresa Everson, the district’s local health officer. “Our health care system and vulnerable community members are relying on (the public) to continue to stay at home, wear your masks, wash your hands and support each other virtually.”
Astria Health filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. A. U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approved Astria leasing the hospital to the state for $1.5 million a month. Astria continues to operate hospitals in Sunnyside and Toppenish.