Inslee prepared to activate National Guard to help with staffing shortages in hospitals

Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s ready to activate the National Guard to help struggling hospitals around the state dealing with staffing shortages.

His statements came minutes after the Washington State Medical Association, which represents 12,000 physicians, sent a letter to the governor and the head of the state Department of Health, urging them to "officially declare Washington state in crisis and immediately take action to aid overwhelmed emergency departments and hospitals across the stat." 

The letter asked Inslee to use the National Guard to "assist with staffing shortages in long term care facilities and hospitals, including many non-clinical services such as patient transport, meal service and laboratory assistance."

During a Thursday brief regarding the governor’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session, Inslee was asked if he would honor the physician’s request and activate the Guard.

"We are preparing for the use of National Guard that can be useful in the health care system," he said.  "We haven't been asked specifically by hospitals, but will look for suggestions".

"Hospitals are really, really full and staffing is incredibly tight," said Cassie Sauer, President of the Washington State Hospital Association.  "One thing that is new for us is that we have a lot of hospital staff that are sick who have tested positive." 

RELATED: Washington orders 5.5 million at-home tests for public

Weekly COVID case counts have skyrocketed 88% since the beginning of December, said Sauer.  She said emergency rooms are running at full capacity with people who are in dire medical need having to wait.

Aside from the staffing shortage, she said people seeking a COVID test, whether they are showing symptoms or not, has become a huge problem.

"It is causing a huge backlog in our ER’s. It's jeopardizing care for people with true emergencies. It is totally burning out our staff" said Sauer. "We do not, at this moment, have room for even a small number of COVID patients and we expect these numbers to keep climbing."

"We are in a difficult time in our health care system right now," said Washington’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Umair Shah.

He acknowledged the staffing strain on hospitals and nursing homes with COVID rooms, and said people who have tested positive with COVID should not go to the emergency room unless the symptoms are severe.

"If you've got symptoms and you can't get a test, instead of frantically going and clogging up an emergency department and further the strain on the health care system - you stay home, you isolate," he said.

Sauer said a change in medical consent laws is hampering loved ones and hospitals from moving COVID patients to nursing facilities. Typically, when a patient is unable to give consent to a change of medical care, the guardian or next of kin can give consent. However, a change in the law is preventing a loved one from giving that consent.

"You can consent for a person ending care and not resuscitate a person, but you cannot consent to the person moving to a nursing home," said Sauer.  "This is ludicrous. It needs to be changed. We are despite for help on that." 

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