Gov. Inslee requests federal assistance for Washington hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients

Gov. Jay Inslee made a plea to the federal government on Friday, requesting additional medical personnel to help overwhelmed hospitals in Washington. 

President Joe Biden's COVID-19 Action Plan states more clinical teams would be available. Inslee is requesting the Department of Defense send some of the extra staff to Washington.

Inslee said hospitals across the state are in a crisis. In part of his letter to the federal government’s COVID-19 Response Coordinator, he said, "our hospitals are currently at or beyond capacity, and we need additional assistance at this time. Our hospitals were nearing capacity this summer – before the Delta variant hit our state."

Officials with the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) held a virtual briefing on Monday discussing the ongoing pandemic’s impact on hospitals and health care providers.

"I never would have in the second week of July, when we were sitting at around 235 hospitalized COVID patients in our state, have predicted that just six or eight weeks later, we would be 50% above what our previous high peak was. That’s how fast things can change," said Dr. Steve Mitchell, medical director at Washington Medical Coordination Center.

WSHA said there were 1,504 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of the morning of Sept. 20, compared to 1,673 last week. Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of WSHA, said there is a grim reason why hospitalization numbers are declining.

"One of the reasons the hospitalization rates are falling is that death rates are rising," said Sauer. "There are 30 COVID deaths in the state in the last 24 hours."

Hospital officials said they are continuing to see record levels of hospital admissions.

"We are certainly at capacity and it is essentially clogging up the entire system. Basically, we are housing patients in the emergency room that would normally be admitted for inpatient status. And that then leads downstream to extremely long waits for emergency room care," said Jon Hersen, president of Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.

About 260 people remain on ventilators in the state, a "last-resort treatment" for those who are the sickest, Sauer said.

In an attempt to prevent the state’s COVID-19 patients from getting sicker, many hospitals had started ordering monoclonal antibody treatments directly from manufacturers.

Because manufacturers had suddenly become "inundated with orders," however, Sauer said the federal government is returning to its previous distribution system, where a state gets an allocation of monoclonal antibodies, then distributes it among its communities.

RELATED: Elective surgeries getting canceled again as Washington hospitals fill up with rising COVID cases

For these reasons and more, Inslee is asking the federal government for, "medical staff resources to help meet staffing needs in hospitals and in long-term care facilities." Hospital officials said health care providers statewide are burning out.

"It is so hard for staff to constantly be taking care of patients over and over again who are incredibly ill and it’s seen as something that is preventable in most circumstances," said Mitchell.

According to WSHA, more than 90% of patients hospitalized are not vaccinated. The influx is putting elective surgeries on hold. Dr. Dan Getz, chief medical officer for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital, said several surgeries for several of their cancer patients were postponed.

"Our surgeons are passionately advocating for these patients and it’s heart-wrenching for them to feel like they can’t take care of them. Lots of spine surgeries where people are in constant pain—they’re not sleeping, they’re in agony and we can fix that, we can provide comfort and we’re having to pause that," said Getz.

Despite Monday’s sobering update, officials with WSHA said they are encouraged by the increase in the vaccination rate across the state. They said the governor’s mask mandate and vaccination verification policies in a number of counties are also helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

There have been more than 553,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus more than 67,000 "probable" cases — in Washington state, and 7,201 deaths. State health officials say that most of the state’s new infections are caused by the delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.

As of last week, 75% of people age 12 and older have initiated vaccination and 68% are fully vaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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