Wash. hospitals in capacity crisis; beds per capita worst in US

Sep 25, 2023, 5:23 PM

Seattle patient...

SEATTLE, WA - Nurse Karen Hayes administers care to a patient in the acute care COVID-19 unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The state of Washington has a hospital capacity crisis, according to the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA).

Washington has fewer hospital beds per capita than any other state in the nation. The District of Columbia ranked No. 1 at beds a 4.89 per 1,000 members of the population as of 2021. The state of Washington ranked last at 1.60.

To make matters worse, between one and two out of every 10 beds are occupied by patients who don’t need to be there.

In Everett, about 100 people on average are stuck in hospital beds for months longer than necessary at Providence Regional Medical Center.

“It almost feels worse than before COVID,” Susan Williams, a longtime administrative supervisor at Providence Everett, told The Everett Herald. “We’ve had 19 discharges so far today. We need more like 70.”

Providence Everett exceeds patient capacity across all departments and has one of the busiest emergency rooms in the state. It’s one of just two hospitals in the region that perform life-saving procedures for victims of Level 2 trauma, such as a heart attack or stroke.

The problem stems from some patients being medically stable but having long-term care needs the hospital must address before discharge. This keeps them checked in for months or even years, leaving fewer beds for patients in acute distress.

Related news: Washington hospitals operating at a loss; official calls situation ‘unsustainable’

Nurses said the emergency department lobby is often full with 40 to 50 patients, some waiting several hours to be seen. Some receive care in the lobby.

Shortages of nurses working in health care haven’t helped.

Kelli Johnson, an ER nurse who wrote about the state’s issues with nurse employment for the Herald in 2022, said this summer someone who has a heart attack could wait up to 30 minutes for treatment, according to The Everett Herald.

A big part of the problem is that most insurers pay for hospital visits with fixed rates based on patient diagnosis, regardless of how long a patient stays. Once that money runs out, the hospital often pays the bill, which can reach up to $10,000 per day.

Costs are outpacing revenues leaving many hospitals upside down.

Catherine Ambrose, senior director of care management for Providence Everett and Swedish Edmonds, said about one-third of patients at the Everett hospital need discharge planning.

“Hospitals are a safety net with resources,” she said, according to the Herald. “They’re an option of last resort for people who have been failed by our society.”

The trouble is there are no solid solutions in the offing so hospitals must muddle through until they find one, which doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.

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Wash. hospitals in capacity crisis; beds per capita worst in US