Hospitals and unions both seek solutions to staffing crisis

SEATTLE — As an ICU nurse in Eastern Washington, Julia Barcott has seen a lot of her colleagues leave.

“We are simply worn down,” she said. “Too many of us have started to wonder why we are in this profession.”

Hospital administrators say the stress of the pandemic has many nurses asking to work part-time, or leaving for higher paying work as traveling nurses.

“I’ve been a nurse for 38 years and I’ve not seen a staffing challenge as difficult,” said Susan Stacey, RN, Chief Executive for Providence Inland Northwest Washington.

Separately on Monday, both hospital leaders and health care unions held news events calling attention to the staffing crisis.

The unions want Washington lawmakers to follow California’s lead, and set enforceable minimum staffing standards.

“The stress of the pandemic broke an already stressed system,” said David Keepnews, executive director of the Washington State Nurses Association, which is among the labor groups developing legislation to address the staffing crisis.

The Washington State Hospital Association responded by saying California’s staffing crunch is even worse, and emergency rooms are sometimes so full they turn away patients.

“From what we know about what’s happened in California this is not a law that has worked,” said Cassie Sauer, executive director of WSHA.

Both administrators and unions say there’s another problem exacerbating Washington’s staffing problem; patients in hospitals who should be in long-term care facilities.

Several local hospitals are running at 120 percent capacity.

“They are not filled with COVID-19 patients. Remarkably, they are filled with patients who don’t need hospital care,” said Washington State Hospital Association executive vice president and general counsel Taya Briley.

The hospital association wants state lawmakers to make it easier to transition patients to long term care.

Because of capacity problems, last week Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett delayed more than 40 non-emergency surgeries, including a heart valve replacement and the removal of cancerous tumors.

“Patients and their families face the emotional and physical stress of waiting for their procedure or service,” said Jay Cook, MD, chief medical officer for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.