'We were in there like a can of sardines:' Woman shares experience of overwhelmed hospital system

Doctors and nurses across Washington are worried about a potential surge in hospitalizations because of Omicron. 

They are pleading for the public's help, saying people's behavior moving forward could make or break an already overwhelmed hospital system. 

An Olympia woman can personally attest to the overburdened hospital system.

Around two weeks ago, Debbie was rushed to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia for a potential heart attack. When she got to the hospital, not only was the wait longer than usual to get admitted, but she ended up not in a room, but instead in the hallway with many other patients suffering from serious illnesses. 

Debbie says she had suffered a heart attack back in 2017 and was taken to the same hospital. The experience then and now she says was night and day. She says in 2017 she was admitted in just minutes while this time around the medics had to wait with her for about an hour to hand her off.

"I was carted around in a wheelchair from place to place and then I finally got a bed in the hallway, there were dozens of other patients there. We were in there like a can of sardines, curtains in between were cloth," Debbie said.

For the next 28 hours, Debbie says it felt like she was in a ‘third world country.’

Health officials: King County should prepare for omicron COVID surge

Public Health – Seattle & King County officials urged people on Friday to prepare for a surge of omicron COVID-19 cases as the highly-infectious variant spreads through the region.

She says most of the patients suffering in the hallway with her were elderly people.

"This is somebody’s father and grandfather and they deserve better than that," Debbie said.

Despite all the challenges, she says the doctors and nurses at Providence St. Peter Hospital were simply amazing.

"The staff was terrific, they were dealing with patients under these conditions, I mean, they are all heroes," Debbie said.

Although hospitalizations of COVID patients have decreased since the peak of the Delta surge, many hospitals are still at or near capacity.

 "Having the most significant effect right now statewide, overall, is difficulty discharging patients," Taya Briley with Washington State Hospital Association said.

Discharging patients can be complicated because of consent issues while others are waiting to get into long term care facilities. 

Then there is all the backlog of medical cases postponed due to COVID patients months back.

"We are actually now trying to get those patients now taken care of, some of which need hospitalizations, so that is also why we are not seeing that overall decrease," Dr. Michael Myint with Multicare Health System said.

Even without Omicron, healthcare workers say they are at a breaking point that’s why they are asking the public to get vaccinated and mindful of big gatherings this holiday season.

"Because this is real, people think it won’t happen to them, it can and it does," Debbie said. 

The Olympia woman says hours into her stay in the hallway, she got confirmation that she was not suffering from a heart attack. Also important to note, not all hospitals are at max capacity, it depends on the area. Although we are not seeing any surge in hospitalizations due to Omicron yet, doctors say at this moment they are beginning to see a slight uptick in admissions in areas of South King and Pierce County.

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