North Olympic Peninsula hospitals are struggling to take care of patients as loads increase with staffing stretched thin, said the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties on Thursday, when three more deaths due to COVID-19 were reported.
“We’re going to face significant strain for weeks to come,” Dr. Allison Berry said Thursday.
COVID-19 rates are starting to level off — the first step before seeing a decrease — but hospitalizations lag behind cases by two to three weeks, Berry said.
Three more Clallam County residents died from COVID-19, raising the total number of deaths in the county to 39 since the pandemic began.
The three who died were a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 90s; all were unvaccinated, Berry said.
The woman was a resident at a long-term care facility in Clallam that has been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, Berry said.
No new deaths were reported in Jefferson County, which has reported 13 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began.
On Thursday, Clallam County added 40 new COVID-19 cases, raising its total number to 3,758 since the pandemic began, according to county public health data.
Jefferson County added six new cases on Thursday, raising its total to 906 since the pandemic began, public health data said.
Clallam County’s case rate remained steady on Thursday, holding at 1,216 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Thursday, public health data said.
Jefferson County calculates its case rate weekly and recorded 532.92 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
COVID patients are not the majority of cases being treated in the region’s hospitals. Occasionally, higher numbers of people than usual come in with severe complaints, said Amy Yaley, Jefferson Healthcare hospital spokesperson. The COVID cases add to the load.
Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend, as of 8 a.m. Thursday, had a census of 22 patients, three of whom were sick with COVID-19, Yaley said.
One of the COVID-19 patients was in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Even though the hospital has 25 beds, its average patient census has been about 12 for the past five years.
The higher number of inpatients means additional staff must be called in, which is extremely difficult because of staffing shortages, Yaley said.
Child care issues and illness of themselves or family members have eroded available staff, Yaley added.
“What we’re experiencing, just like every other business we know of, the additional staff is not there,” she said.
“We’re all feeling this strain that I don’t think we anticipated 19 months ago.”
The total number of ICU patients at Jefferson Healthcare on Thursday morning was three, and the hospital has a total of six ICU beds, with some acute care unit rooms set up to be able to treat severe COVID-19 patients if needed, Yaley said.
While struggling, Jefferson Healthcare staff have been able to keep treating patients, Yaley said.
“I’m kind of in awe of how well everyone is pulling together and pushing through,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing.”
As of 8:30 a.m. Thursday, OMC in Port Angeles had 55 hospitalized inpatients, 16 of whom were sick with COVID-19. Three of the COVID-19 patients were in the ICU, and as of 5 a.m. Thursday, the hospital had one ICU bed available, said Bobby Beeman, hospital spokesperson.
Transferring patients is a struggle for OMC, as hospitals across the state are feeling the same strains due to the COVID-19 surge, Beeman said, a struggle shared by those at Jefferson Healthcare, according to Yaley.
Forks Community Hospital also is feeling the strain of the pandemic, Berry said, without providing details.
In addition, there is also a national shortage of the monoclonal antibody treatments used for patients who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 to lessen the possibility of hospitalizations and deaths, Berry said.
“Unfortunately, there is such a demand nationwide, there is not enough to go around,” Berry said, adding that officials will be prioritizing the most at-risk patients to receive the treatment.
“This is one of the first health care resources where we don’t have an adequate supply, and I think it highlights how critical the situation is in health care right now.
“It’s not just a shortage of beds and staff. There’s starting to be a shortage of materials, and that unfortunately is likely going to get worse before it gets better.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at email@example.com.