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Skagit Valley Hospital, other North Sound facilities filling up

Hospitalizations are trending up in the North Sound. (Nicole Jennings, KIRO Radio)

Skagit Valley Hospital is at full capacity, and it is not the only hospital in the northwestern part of the state feeling the pinch.

Skagit Regional Health Regional Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Connie Davis said visits to the ER, ICU, and hospital stays in general have all increased over the past month.

However, she said they are well-prepared to handle the skyrocketing numbers.

“We are at our capacity — but being flexible like we are, and all that we’ve learned over the last year, year-and-a-half, we’ve been able to make space,” Davis said. “And our staff has been extremely responsive to the care needs.”

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The hospital’s full-capacity strategy involves opening up extra wards to accommodate more people.

“We are going to continue with our surge plan that we had put into place because of COVID,” Davis said. “We just will go back to the playbook that we put together and put folks in their specific zones, the hot zones, and have other patients go to some of the other floors.”

Other hospitals in the North Puget Sound are also getting challenged with high capacity.

“I’ve been in contact with the [chief medical officers] for the different hospitals in our area, and everybody is undergoing the same thing,” Davis said. “St. Joseph’s (in Bellingham) is very full, specifically. Providence (in Everett) is full, but not as full — they do have a few beds.”

While COVID hospitalizations at Skagit Valley Hospital did double from five to 10 in the past week, numbers have remained steady before this, and Davis said this month-long uptick has largely not been due to coronavirus.

“There has been an increase in hospitalizations around the state that are non-COVID related,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist during this week’s State Department of Health briefing.

However, the pandemic still perhaps may have played a role.

After more than a year of quarantine, people are choosing to socially-distance out in nature — and the state is seeing record numbers of people engaging in outdoor sports, like boating. The state parks, foothills, and coastline of Skagit and Whatcom Counties provide a natural paradise for people seeking adventure on hiking trails or water.

“People are really now wanting to get out and the weather has been so nice,” Davis said. “There are a lot of outdoor sports that go on, obviously, in Whatcom and Skagit Counties — there is a lot of mountain biking, a lot of soccer, a lot of hiking, rock climbing.”

But, she said, any uptick in outdoor sports inevitably leads to an uptick in outdoor sports injuries — especially if people are so desperate to get outdoors that they throw caution to the wind, or overestimate their abilities after getting out of shape during quarantine.

It is a phenomenon noted by state health officials this week, as well.

“We just went through Memorial Day Weekend,” Lindquist said. “As more people are out boating, hiking, biking, doing things outdoors, traumas are occurring, but if the hospitals are full, it’s going to be very hard to get these folks in.”

The other pandemic trend Davis has noticed may come from not spending enough time outdoors.

She and the other doctors are seeing an increase in chronic problems among people staying at the hospital, including heart disease and stroke. Davis believes this is due to people staying home and ignoring preventative care during quarantine, such as foregoing regular doctor visits and screenings, exercising less, and eating unhealthy foods.

“They weren’t really doing everything from a preventative perspective — so making sure that they were eating correctly, exercising appropriately, keeping all the appointments that they normally would,” she said.

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