Washington hospitals full as patients aren’t able to get into nursing homes

Dec 13, 2021, 4:33 PM | Updated: Dec 17, 2021, 4:55 pm
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Washington’s COVID numbers have come down since the delta surge of the summer and early fall, but once again, the state’s hospitals are pushing their capacity limits.

“Our hospitals are bursting at the seams,” said Washington State Hospital Association Executive Vice President Taya Briley at a briefing on Monday. “Several major hospitals and health systems are at or near 120% occupancy levels.”

This time, however, COVID-19 is not the reason for the crowded hospital rooms. Instead, patients who are medically able to leave the hospital are stuck in hospital rooms because they cannot be discharged to a long-term care facility.

“Remarkably, [the hospital rooms] are filled with patients who do not need hospital care,” Briley said.

Eastern Washington hospitals say no big losses in staffing post-mandate

Just like in the midst of the delta surge, this is resulting in incoming patients having nowhere to go. Briley said some are spending days in the ER as they wait for a hospital room. This has hospital leaders worried about what could happen if there is another winter COVID surge like last year — especially with the new omicron variant circling.

“The severe shortage of hospital inpatient space is already delaying procedures that are vitally important to the health of our community members — for example, heart procedures or cancer surgeries,” Briley said.

Some patients get held back from entering rehab after a hospital stay by red tape. Briley explained that while it can be fairly straightforward for a family member to give consent for their loved one to have surgery, it is an entirely different story when it comes to authorizing their relative to go to a nursing home.

“State law for family consent to long-term care placement is remarkably complex,” Briley said.

WSHA plans to work with state legislators in the upcoming session to simplify those laws.

“We hope we will see some legislation advance during the session that will improve the decision-making process that will be able to move these patients faster into care settings,” Briley said.

Staffing is another major issue. Like hospitals, long-term care facilities have suffered staffing shortages throughout the pandemic, as employees leave due to burnout, child care needs, or concerns around catching the virus.

“Some of the [long-term care] facilities are half-full or nowhere near a sustainable level because they don’t have the staff to accept patients,” said Zosia Stanley, vice president and associate general counsel for WSHA.

That leads back to the hospitals in a domino effect, as the patients who are ready for rehab are stuck in a holding pattern until space can be found.

“The whole health care system has to work in order for any part of it to work … staffing challenges are across the health care system,” Stanley said. “And we are continuing to partner with all the different pieces and the Legislature to find a way forward.”

From hospitals to nursing homes

This comes as a recent report from the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has named Washington as a state without adequate long-term care staffing standards.

The report notes that other states have stronger requirements than Washington to ensure quality care — such as the number of direct-care hours that must be given to each resident each day in tasks such as bathing, dressing, and feeding. While Washington state law requires 3.4 direct care hours per resident each day, the report notes that four hours is considered the minimum for quality of life.

“In Washington state, there are definitely facilities that meet [four hours] and exceed that, but the vast majority are below that,” said Washington State Long-term Care Ombuds Patricia Hunter.

Furthermore, Hunter noted that the long-term care mandates Washington does have — including not only the direct care hours stipulation, but also a requirement to have a registered nurse on-site at each long-term care facility 24 hours per day — are on hold during the pandemic.

When facilities don’t meet these standards, it may mean people wait for hours for help getting out of bed or getting dressed. The Ombuds Office has gotten reports of falls, cold meals, lack of activity and physical therapy, and people sitting in their own waste as they wait for aid to go to the restroom.

Hunter believes Washington’s high turnover in long-term care staffing — a problem even before COVID — may have been why some facilities had such a struggle with controlling infection during all of the nursing home outbreaks at the beginning of the pandemic.

“If you have high turnover in staffing — and Washington state has one of the highest rates of staffing turnover in nursing homes, for decades they’ve had it — you don’t have the skills and knowledge, institutional knowledge, that is consistent,” Hunter said.

She sees higher pay for long-term care workers as the only way out of the problem.

WSHA agrees — and to that end, is pushing for increased Medicaid payment rates for long-term care facilities.

“That in turn can be translated into higher wages for those who work in nursing homes,” Briley said. “Nursing home care is challenging — it’s labor-intensive.”

If you are wondering if a long-term facility is right for your loved one, the Ombuds Office recommends you ask the facility for their most recent state inspection reports. You can contact the Ombuds Office for help with this. The Ombuds Office is also looking for volunteers to go to nursing homes and assess the quality of care being given.

Follow Nicole Jennings on Twitter or email her here

Local News

Lynnwood Clinic...
L.B. Gilbert

Lynnwood opioid clinic receives DOH license amid controversy

The Washington DOH just gave the final approval for a proposed opioid treatment clinic to open in Lynnwood.
10 hours ago
L.B. Gilbert

Regional Homeless Authority requests $12 billion for 5 year plan

How much money would it take to solve homelessness in Seattle? The KCRHA estimates that it would take roughly $11.8 billion to address homelessness.
10 hours ago
Judge, pot shop robbery...
Lisa Brooks

WA Corrections pays $600K settlement in sexual harassment lawsuit

Washington's Corrections Department has agreed to pay $600,000 dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former intern.
10 hours ago
(Photo from KIRO 7)...
Shawn Garrett, KIRO 7 News

‘A double life’: Skagit County pastor accused of dealing drugs, money laundering

A Skagit County pastor who “admitted he leads a double life” was arrested in January with nearly three pounds of methamphetamine, fentanyl and cocaine
10 hours ago
A shopper checks out an item in a Target store in Pittsburgh on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. On Friday, t...
Associated Press

US inflation and consumer spending cooled in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge eased further in December, and consumer spending fell — the latest evidence that the Fed’s series of interest rate hikes are slowing the economy. Friday’s report from the Commerce Department showed that prices rose 5% last month from a year earlier, down from a 5.5% year-over-year […]
10 hours ago
(Photo from KIRO 7)...
Deborah Horne, KIRO 7 News

Western Washington Gets Real: Pacific Northwest native wowing the opera world

Her astonishing voice has been heard around the world, but it was discovered and nurtured right here in the Pacific Northwest.
10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Washington hospitals full as patients aren’t able to get into nursing homes