Tacoma hospitals keep up with patient demand

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By Matt Nagle

matt@tacomaweekly.com

As Tacoma hospitals work to keep up with patient demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, MultiCare staff have been taking numerous steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of not only patients, but its heathcare staff as well. 

Like other hospitals in Pierce County, MultiCare is expecting an increase in COVID-19 positive patients over the coming weeks. MultiCare is made up of sevenhospitals and more than 200 clinics (primary, specialty and urgent care) in Pierce, King, Kitsap, Thurston, Snohomish and Spokane counties, and all of them are coordinating their efforts for a unified plan of action. For example, mobilized regional labor pools are being used to shift employees who may be seeing lower surgical or patient volumes to do more emerging and critically needed work in another area. 

With news reports coming out lately about shortages of equipment like ventilators and respirators, MultiCare hospitals are working together to transfer patients to only a few locations instead of scattering them across many areas. This allows for the consolidation of equipment, like respirators and ventilators, needed to treat patients. 

Creating safer patient care spaces is also a priority. Converting more rooms to negative pressure environments helps control airborne contaminants. Recommended by the CDC, a negative pressure environment directs air outside rather than recirculating it to other areas and contaminating patients, staff and sterile equipment.

In open wards, several patients can share the same space, helping to contain the virus spread and increase access to medical equipment and supplies. Increasing the bed count is also on the list. Currently, MultiCare has a total of 1,730 licensed beds:82 beds at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, 437 beds at Tacoma General, 130 beds at Allenmore Hospital, 388 beds at Deaconess Hospital (Spokane), 375 beds at Good Samaritan Hospital (Puyallup), 195 beds at Auburn Medical Center and 123 beds at Valley Hospital in Spokane.

Testing continues as well for those with upper respiratory symptoms (cough, fever or shortness of breath). Those who may be experiencing these symptoms are asked to call first before visiting a hospital, clinic or urgent care to determine if they need to visit a specific site for testing. MultiCare is currently offering e-visits to anyone who may have COVID-19 symptoms through MultiCare Virtual Care at www.multicare.org/virtualcare

CHI Franciscan is doing the same at https://franciscanvirtualcare.org/landing.htm, where visits are available on demand 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Entering the discount code COVID19 will waive the usual $35 fee. If you have a fever and cough and are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, a triage site has been established at St. Joseph Hospital for screening. CHI Franciscan, as part of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health,has suspended its billing for COVID-19 testing and treatment system-wide. CommonSpirit will continue to work with payers and federal, state, and local officials to determine the cost-sharing associated with providing care related to COVID-19.

With healthcare professionals and employees working long hours under considerable stress, retired medical staff and new graduates are coming forth to help at hospitals across the country. Last week, 

MultiCare implemented a temporary staffing, pay and benefit protection program for all MultiCare employees through April 25, when the program will be re-evaluated. 

A major reason for this program’s implementation is the fact that some specialties, as well as some Tacoma hospitals, are seeing a decrease in volume as Washingtonians are ordered to shelter-in-place and as MultiCare shifts resources in anticipation of an increase in COVID-19 patients. Under the program, employees who do not have enough work available in their home area or department may be asked to do critically needed work in another area. If re-deployment does not make sense based on the organization’s needs, some employees may be asked to stay home. In both situations, employees’ regular pay and benefits will be maintained.

“I have watched our team members and teams step forward, volunteering to help and support in so many ways,” said Bill Robertson, president and CEO of MultiCare Health System. “In these challenging times, we want to do all that we can to help our employees and their families feel supported and secure. It is inspiring to see how our employees are working to address the COVID-19 health crisis in our communities. We are grateful for all they do every day to care for our patients and communities.”

All visitors to Tacoma hospitals and clinics under MultiCare and CHI Franciscan are being screened at entrances, with some entrances being closed to help direct the flow of foot traffic. Visitors with a fever, cough, shortness of breath, or symptoms of a common cold or flu are not allowed to enter. Visit www.chifranciscan.org and www.multicare.org to learn more.

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