‘They are exhausted’: Spokane reporter offers look inside ICU treating COVID patients

Sep 16, 2021, 10:21 AM | Updated: Sep 22, 2021, 10:45 pm
nurse, covid, ICU...
(File photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
(File photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

There’s a big debate going on about COVID and vaccines, but it’s hard to debate the reality on the ground in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital, whether it’s in Spokane, Washington, or across the county.

How would crisis standards of care be enacted in Washington — and at what point?

A year and a half into the pandemic, some medical professionals are now letting journalists inside local hospitals because they’re desperate to get the word out there, desperate for us to hear what it’s like.

KXLY TV’s Robyn Nance shares a special report from the ICU at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.

“So we just brought a woman in her early 70s up from the emergency room. She had been waiting in the emergency room for 16 hours. And because we didn’t have a bed available, we just now got her up and she has to be emergently intubated, meaning they’re going to put in a breathing tube to help her breathe,” one nurse described.

At Sacred Heart, there are 26 beds in the general medical and neuro trauma ICU, and 28 in the cardiac ICU. But the hospital is now having to use the cardiac ICU for COVID patients as well.

It’s to the point where difficult decisions have to be made as to who gets the bed, when, and why. There’s also been times, as one nurse explains, where there’s only one ventilator left in the hospital and someone has to decide who gets it.

It’s a group of providers and doctors, essentially a board of people, that makes those decisions.

On top of that, nurses in Spokane say that they’ve been down staff and have people working for 16 hours.

“They are exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally,” one nurse said. “It’s very draining. And we just want to feel like it could get better.”

“It seems like in the community, people are still not believing that this is real,” another said. “We see people die all the time here.”

“The young people, the people with families, with lives like my own who went to work every day and are never going to go home to their kids, their moms, and their dogs. And just knowing that you did everything and it wasn’t enough,” a Spokane nurse shared about the difficult parts of the job. “And then at the end of the day you zip up the bag and you have to go home and try to pretend life’s OK.”

That said, another nurse in Spokane said that the vaccine is the hope. The more people that get vaccinated, she noted, the fewer patients will be in the hospital.

There have also been stories that Spokane and hospitals along the border with Idaho are now having to care for both Idaho patients and Washington patients. Idaho has no mask requirements.

“We have our own anti-masking and anti-vaccine here, so just because there’s a border doesn’t mean that it just stops at the border,” KXLY TV’s Robyn Nance said about Spokane. “It kind of depends on where you’re tuning in and who you’re listening to — there is fear that Washington needs the beds for Washingtonians. And that’s kind of what the governor has said, asking Idaho to get it together, neighbors, because we can’t take care of you. We’ve got to take care of our own people.”

“Then Idaho, of course, just went into crisis standards of care, meaning they are so short of beds that they can’t take care of all the people that need taking care of there,” she added.

Idaho’s medical crisis is ‘becoming our problem’ in Washington

As far as the patients hospitalized in Spokane being vaccinated or unvaccinated, Nance says not very many are vaccinated. The reporters did ask directly, but Nance says, of course, the nurses and doctors won’t walk down the hall and say “this person is, this person isn’t.”

“But they said very rarely do they have vaccinated people in their ICUs,” she said.

Watch Nance’s full report at KXLY.com here.

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‘They are exhausted’: Spokane reporter offers look inside ICU treating COVID patients