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King County nurse: Health care workers ‘feel left by the wayside’ with hospitals overwhelmed

Nurse Karen Hayes administers care at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

With Washington state health officials sounding the alarm that COVID linked hospitalizations are stressing King County’s intensive care units to their limit, a registered nurse in King County spoke out on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show about hospital conditions on the ground.

“We’re seeing at least three times the number of COVID patients than we’ve ever seen before,” the RN said. “Even in the first and second wave, we lost a number of staff members during that time. There’s nobody to replace you. We’re not growing nurses on trees.”

In a press release sent on Wednesday, the Washington State Department of Health addressed the current state of hospital capacity and standard of care.

“Hospital capacity is currently stressed across the state of Washington,” the release reads. “The surge in hospitalizations is one that Washington Department of Health (DOH), with its healthcare partners, has been monitoring closely. At this time, partners across Washington have undertaken a number of strategies to stretch resources and mitigate current challenges.”

As of the week of Aug. 27, Harborview Medical Center is at 92.8% ICU bed capacity, with 90 of 97 beds occupied, according to data from the state Department of Health. The daily, statewide COVID-19 hospital occupancy figure sits at 1,585 as of Sept. 6.

Confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths across Washington state

Speaking to Gee and Ursula, the King County nurse addressed prolonged recovery timelines for in-patient care of COVID patients. She claims that, in conjunction with the failure of long term-care facilities to adequately handle COVID patient volume, health care personnel have been struggling to meet demand.

“These folks are in the hospital for a very, very long time,” the nurse said. “Then they need to go to a rehab facility. They aren’t getting the extra dollars in rehab facilities that they got the first year of COVID. They don’t want to take patients. They sit in our hospital. We don’t have any place to send them.”

She clarified the way in which King County hospitals are over-burdened by COVID patients, specifically within the context of what she sees as a staffing shortage.

“There aren’t people out there. We can’t even get traveling nurses to come and help us,” she said. “[Intensive care] units are full because, not only do we have COVID patients, but if you have a heart attack today, you’re going to get treated. We have to make accommodations for that. It’s a real juggling game.”

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She ended the interview with the sentiment that public opinion has turned against health care personnel.

“We feel kind of left by the wayside,” she added.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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