Hospitals face shortage of ICU nurses as COVID-19 cases surge

Washington state hospitals are seeing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We’re concerned, beginning this week, we’ll see the impact of the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Dr. Steve Mitchell, the medical director of Harborview’s Emergency Department and the Washington Care Coordination Center. Mitchell is keeping track of the growing number of hospitalizations. And while the beds are available, they’re short of staff to care for patients.

“Hospitals could make a lot more space, use conference rooms, hallways and offices to put patients in. What they’re really missing is staff — staff who can care for patients in acute respiratory distress,” said Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association.

Fall and early winter are always busy times for Washington hospitals, and they usually bring in extra staff this time of year.

This year, staffing is already down, with employees being sick, quarantining, caring for children or dealing with their own medical conditions, and these reasons make it unsafe for them to work.

COVID-19 has resulted in intensive care unit nurses in high demand, making it difficult to fill the shortage.

“The thing we’re most closely watching are ICU nurses who can take care of acute care patients and respiratory therapists — that’s the ‘weight limiting’ step we’re paying attention to,” said Dr. Chris Dale, the chief quality officer at Swedish Medical Center.

When it comes to getting help from nurses in other states, there’s another challenge. Thirty-four states are in a pact that allows nurses to work from state to state without added paperwork, but Washington isn’t one of them.

The Washington State Legislature will need to pass a law for Washington to join the pact. The Washington State Hospital Association stated it has been pushing for it for several years. The pact is also supported by the Nursing Commission. The Washington State Nurses Association is against joining the pact.