Inslee calls on National Guard to help with staffing shortages

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that he will activate the National Guard to help Washington hospitals that are facing a widespread shortage of workers amid the omicron surge.

Inslee will activate 100 non-clinical National Guard personnel to assist with “various non-medical tasks” and to provide COVID testing teams to testing sites outside of hospitals.

Multiple hospitals will receive teams to alleviate non-medical staffing in their emergency departments: Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Confluence Health/Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital in Spokane.

COVID-19 testing teams will be deployed to several locations: Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, UW Medicine/Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital.

King County and Snohomish County are also setting up additional FEMA testing sites.

The transmissibility of the omicron variant has led to a dramatic increase in hospitalizations and healthcare staffing shortages, said Inslee. Hospital leaders and physicians have declared they are in a “crisis,” as facilities were already full prior to the 75% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Inslee made several additional announcements at the press conference.

A four-week pause will be put on non-urgent procedures so capacity and staff can accommodate emergent patients. Some hospitals such as UW Medicine and Virginia Mason in Seattle have already halted non-urgent procedures.

The governor said that long term care providers are also facing staffing shortages, which prevents them from admitting individuals incoming from hospitals. In response, Inslee is trying to assist in a few ways.

In order to increase the ability to admit patients from hospitals, the governor wants to expand staffing for direct care as well as dedicate an expansion staff to provide care in nursing homes. He also wants to expand staff needed to assist patients with transition planning, performing assessments, and expediting financial eligibility. Additionally, Inslee wants to contract with Area Agencies on Aging for care transitions.

Inslee is also requiring hospital staff to operate “in conventional PPE levels” in order to fully protect themselves. In case hospitals are unable to acquire proper protective gear, he said the state has full access to all PPE.

At the press conference Inslee called on retired healthcare workers to return to the field to help with testing, vaccinating, or to work in hospitals.

A third-party contract was established in August to encourage clinical and non-clinical staff to work in Washington. Inslee urged hospitals in the state to use the contract noting there are 300 available personnel to assist with the staffing shortage.

The announcement comes a day after the state crossed the threshold for one million cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 10,103 Washingtonians have died from the virus.

According to DOH, 63 percent of the state has been vaccinated.

This story was originally published January 13, 2022 2:46 PM.

Shauna Sowersby was a freelancer for several local and national publications before joining McClatchy’s northwest newspapers covering the Legislature.

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