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Healthcare officials call for changes to state law to address crowded hospitals

The Washington State Hospital Assoc. says a staffing shortage at long-term care facilities is part of the reason why hospitals are so full.

SEATTLE — The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) is pushing for law changes and better pay for caretakers to help address crowded hospitals, as another potential wave of COVID infections looms.

“Hospitals are at or exceeding 120 percent capacity in some cases, which, in those hospitals that are experiencing it, are historic highs,” said Taya Briley, executive vice president of the WSHA.

She said most of the beds are occupied by patients who really should be in long-term care or skilled nursing facilities.

“Many have severe dementia or other challenging behavioral conditions, some have complex psycho-social, financial, or other barriers,” said Jay Cook, chief medical officer for Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett.

“Our problem is that these vulnerable, but not acutely ill, individuals occupy inpatient beds and require the same limited hospital staffing needed for other patients with more severe acute medical problems that need our care,” Cook said.

So why aren't long-term care facilities taking those patients? Many of those places are dealing with staffing shortages, the WSHA said.

“Right now, they've got the space, what they really need are the staff. Staff in nursing homes do really hard and important work, but it's physically hard,” said Briley.

The backlog is causing some medical centers to delay procedures.

“Last week, patients had to wait for a delayed heart valve replacement and for removal of cancerous tumors involving the colon,” Cook said.

The WSHA has some ideas for relief in the near term.

It's asking the state to speed up the process of assessing long-term care patients, so they can move out of hospitals and into the limited spaces available in nursing homes.

The association is also pushing for pay increases, to help address those staffing shortages.

“It's really important to be able to get those payment rates for nursing homes increased so that those staff are incentivized to stay and know that they're being recognized for that hard work that they're doing,” Briley said.

The WSHA is also pushing for changes to state law, to allow family members to make decisions about moving a patient to long-term care facilities.

Briley said the association was encouraged to see money in Governor Inslee’s proposed budget this week for placing patients in long-term care.

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