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Patient advocates, healthcare workers voice concerns about hospital finances

The Washington State Hospital Association said this week there are real-world impacts occurring as a result of expenses rapidly increasing.

SEATTLE — This week, the Washington State Hospital Association raised concerns about its first-quarter revenue and expenses compared to 2021, citing several drivers of rising costs and inadequate incoming funds.

Multiple groups are concerned about the impact of those shortages, including those who advocate for patients and healthcare workers.

Patient access

Gary Renville, executive director of healthcare access nonprofit Project Access Northwest, said patients have also become increasingly concerned, particularly around access. 

"We partner with all the hospitals and systems in the state of Washington, particularly in King, Kitsap and Snohomish County," Renville said. 

Project Access NW helps patients set up needed appointments and helps to remove barriers such as transportation to ensure they can attend and keep up with them. 

"What we're hearing from our patients is, that increased worry, that our hospitals are in crisis- where are they going to go to access healthcare? Where do their loved ones go to access healthcare," said Renville. "For the population we serve that are living at or below 300% the federal poverty level, those are real issues."

The nonprofit finds that often when someone is uncomfortable seeking care early on, it can cause bigger problems down the road, so they encourage people to help loved ones and neighbors seek regular primary care.

They encourage the people they work with to consider resources such as federally-qualified healthcare, free and faith-based clinics, and places that charge on a sliding scale based on income, before they turn to hospitals for primary care needs. 

But Renville said long-term solutions are also needed, and he supports advocacy toward lawmaker efforts to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates and aid in worker development.

You can learn more about the services Project Access NW provides and how to get help here

Frontline healthcare workers

Kimela Vigil, a hospital social worker and rank-and-file vice president for SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, said frontline healthcare workers have been raising concerns about pay for decades.

"For frontline healthcare workers, we've been sounding the alarm, bringing these issues up to our hospital administration for years prior to the pandemic actually, saying that staffing was at a really serious level and certainly wages to keep our coworkers here and the pandemic really just blew that through the roof," Vigil said.

Vigil said that for years, healthcare workers have been facing burnout and wages that did not keep up with the cost of living. Then, more and more people began moving to temporary staffing agencies that would provide better-paying contracts, making it difficult to keep long-term staff.

"The whole thing is a mess and we're feeling the brunt of it being short-staffed in the hospital," Vigil said. "We know that those decisions are made at a high level. It's kind of like you can't complain about the lack of staffing, the lack of care, without paying people appropriately and you have to make that the priority."

Vigil hopes to see hospital administrators find ways to use their budgets to support long-term workers, and would also like to see legislative action to protect frontline healthcare personnel.

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