Washington hospitals brace for thousands of employees to leave

The Washington State Hospital Association issued a warning on Monday, saying hospitals statewide could lose 2% to 5% of their staff in one week. This means they’re expecting 3,000 to 7,500 employees to leave once the state’s vaccine mandate takes effect.

They’re also cautioning people to expect delays in care because of the staff decreases. Rural hospitals with lower vaccination rates will be more severely impacted.

This comes as hospitals are already short-staffed, dealing with burnout and people leaving the industry after 18 months of the pandemic.

“There are some places with particular low vaccination rates that will need to curtail services,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. “There will be longer wait times for services;  we could see caps for inpatient admissions. One hospital discussed if they might need to close their dialysis unit, psychiatric units. So I think hospitals are still sorting through what they might reduce or close,” Sauer said during a news briefing on Monday.

One of the two hospitals in Grays Harbor County has already been forced to close an entire floor because of a lack of staff, according to Dr. Julie Buck, the Grays Harbor County Emergency Medical Services Program Director.

“They had a domino effect for RTs (respiratory therapists) and one after another quit,” Buck said. “So the people who manage the intubated patients, they had four intubated patients in the ER, and three others in addition to those four waiting for transfer — for a total 21 patients managed by three nurses and one provider,” Buck said.

They are bracing for the possibility that more people will leave once the deadline hits, including from the EMS side.

“Some nights there is only one nurse scheduled for the ER because the shortage is so severe. So even losing one more person will be crippling,” Buck said. “In the prehospital setting, there is one volunteer district where know they’re expected to lose almost everyone, so that will leave the entire area uncovered,” she said.

Statewide, a new survey shows 88% of hospital workers are vaccinated so far. The data is not complete because 94% of hospitals in the state participated, and in some cases, people have not yet turned in their paperwork.

Some hospital systems, like UW Medicine and Evergreen Health, both have 97% of staff vaccinated.

Hospital workers who don’t meet the deadline will be put on leave starting Oct. 19, and can return to work if they choose to get the vaccine. Staff placed on leave for missing the deadline will be able to use paid time off, but will otherwise not be paid during the leave.