OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is deploying 100 members of the state National Guard to hospitals across the state to set up testing sites and to assist in non-medical tasks amid staff shortages due to an omicron-fueled spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Inslee announced Thursday that teams will be deployed to assist four emergency departments that are at hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane, and that COVID-19 testing teams will be based at hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Seattle and Tacoma.
There are plans for additional Federal Emergency Management Agency testing sites in King and Snohomish Counties.
Inslee's office said that with a 75% increase in COVID hospitalizations over the first week of the new year, hospitals leaders and physicians have said they are in a crisis.
He said that there are currently 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.
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 Hospital in Yakima, 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.
Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty said all members should be in place by Jan. 24.
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 is also requiring hospitals to temporarily halt non-urgent procedures for four weeks to ease the pressure on capacity for emergency patients.
He 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.
As of Thursday, the state had more than 1 million confirmed or probable cases since the start of the pandemic and 10,103 deaths.
More than 78% of the Washington population age 5 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than 71% is fully vaccinated.
As of this week, more than 2.1 million people have either received a booster or a third dose, according to the Department of Health.