In addressing the need to require people to wear masks, Gov. Jay Inslee said during a news conference Tuesday that there was no room at Yakima County hospitals.
Concern over Memorial’s capacity was prompted by a news release from the Yakima Health District last week stating that the hospital had no beds available Thursday evening.
Virginia Mason Memorial officials stressed to reporters in a separate news conference Tuesday that there are plenty of beds and ventilators.
The real issue, officials said, is having enough staff to provide the higher level of care required by COVID-19 patients.
Care for a single COVID-19 patient often requires a team of multiple critical care physicians, nurses and other staff, Memorial CEO Carole Peet said Tuesday.
“It limits our ability to care (to) a certain number of people,” she said.
Memorial had increased its overall bed capacity to 256 beds, anticipating a surge in patients. But at the hospital’s highest level of occupancy last week, there were still more than 50 beds available, Peet said.
Memorial has transferred patients, but not because there wasn’t enough room. Rather, transfers occurred when there wasn’t enough critical care staff to care for COVID-19 patients, Peet said.
On Thursday, the hospital had to transfer 17 patients, an unusually high number. Those transfers happened because those patients needed a high level of care that exceeded available staffing that day.
“The message we want to get out to our community (is that) we want you to seek care. We want you to know it’s safe to come to the hospital for care,” Peet said. “When our workforce can no longer take care of patients, we will make sure patients are transferred to a facility that has adequate (workforce) capacity.”
Peet also clarified that the hospital workers Virginia Mason Memorial furloughed were not caring directly for patients. Rather, they were support staff doing other tasks, such as billing.
“Our direct patient care workforce has never been furloughed,” she said, noting that those workers have worked overtime and forgone vacations.
Peet also expressed support for the state requirement to wear masks. While the hospital has bed capacity and is working to increase critical care staff to care for more COVID-19 patients, such efforts are crucial to keep the hospital from being overrun.
“We need people to wear masks, we need people to social distance, we need people to wash their hands,” she said.