State’s hospitals warn stroke, appendicitis patients seeing delayed care
It’s not just cosmetic surgery or even joint replacements being canceled due to the COVID surge — around the state, people with life-threatening problems are experiencing delayed care in a triage system caused by the COVID surge.
People with strokes and appendicitis are among those having to wait for treatment around the state.
“If you come in with a stroke, if you come in with a cardiac event, there is not a bed out there for you,” said Julie Petersen, CEO of Kittitas Valley Healthcare in Ellensburg at a Washington State Hospital Association briefing on Tuesday. “And if there is a bed, you might be waiting for an ambulance.”
In rural Central Washington, Petersen said they are used to having to airlift patients for care — a system that works well when the state is not seeing record hospitalizations.
“We have had remarkable success over the years in getting someone on a helicopter and hearing the next day that they’re all but back to normal — but now, there are no beds,” she said.
In these instances, minutes matter — and if not enough brain tissue is saved, a stroke patient can have life-altering problems. Petersen said that they are seeing “the classic stroke outcomes” with patients who get delayed care. People who suffer strokes can lose the ability to walk or speak, and can even die.
Providence Health, which operates 10 hospitals around the state, is experiencing similar difficult decisions.
“A lot of general surgeries are not happening, and those are things that are delayed — things like a normal appendectomy — some of those get delayed because we’re unable to staff them,” said Peg Currie, the chief operating officer of Providence.
Currie is the chief executive of Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane, and she noted that some of these surgeries are also not happening for pediatric patients.
In the past week, COVID hospitalizations in Washington continued to hit new all-time highs, which has been happening each week for the past few weeks. Doctors say the state’s hospitals have become fuller than they have been in recorded history. That is all before the travel and events of Labor Day weekend.
“Even with the reporting lag, there were 1,674 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state — that’s an increase of 7% from last week,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.
She added that more than 250 people are on ventilators, up 34% from last week.
“A lot of these people are not going to make it,” she said. “Hospitals are providing incredible care to them, it is hugely labor intensive, but folks, once they get on a ventilator, many of them will not survive.”
With the already full-to-bursting health care system in mind, health experts in Kittitas County are recommending that anyone who attended the Kittitas County Fair, Ellensburg Rodeo, or Dave Matthews Band concerts at the Gorge get a COVID test in a few days.
“These are people who attended very public events, and I don’t believe there was a lot of masking going on,” Petersen said.
Petersen said Kittitas Valley Health is staffing up their test site so that they can accommodate an increase in the next couple of weeks.
“It’s a great service that we can reach out and provide to the community,” she said.
She said early detection of COVID and quarantine measures will help prevent more hospitalizations — and more delayed care.
Above all, she said, masking up and getting vaccinated are the best actions that people can take to help ease the strain on hospitals right now.