Hospitals report employees out because of COVID-19

Olympic Medical Center lists 127 not working

PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Center has 127 employees off work because of COVID-19, either because they are infected or because they were exposed to a person who had tested positive for the virus.

Employee absences reportedly span across all OMC departments.

The number includes both the Port Angeles and Sequim medical centers, as well as OMC clinics.

A total of 1,650 employees work in the system.

“It’s fair to say at least 10 percent of our workforce is impacted by one of those categories,” said Jennifer Burkhardt, chief human resources officer for OMC.

Forks Community Hospital has seven of its 310 employees out because of COVID restrictions, according to CEO Heidi Anderson.

Information about Jefferson Healthcare hospital was not available on Wednesday. Numbers are expected to be available later this week.

An email sent to OMC employees on Tuesday said 160 employees had been precluded from working.

However, as of 10:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, that number had dropped to 127 staff members, with 33 people having recovered from the virus, Burkhardt said. They were monitoring their symptoms, checking their temperatures and undergoing daily tests, she said.

There is no single part of the medical center that hasn’t been affected by employee absences, from nursing staff to administrative and operations.

“It’s spread across the organization,” Burkhardt said.

“We hit our peak with the delta variant over Labor Day weekend, and we had our peak, at least so far, with the omicron variant on Christmas Eve,” she added, although “we’re seeing a slight downward trend in the number of employees affected.”

Transmission has been rapid within departments, Burkhardt said.

“So where it was a little bit more scattered with the delta variant, what we see right now is that, in a particular department, is if there is someone who has been exposed outside of work or tests positive, that whole department is affected pretty quickly,” Burkhardt said.

Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said: “We are really seeing the power of the omicron surge with breakthrough cases in our staff from work and at home,” she said.

OMC officials are working to get as many of their employees back to work as possible to relieve an already lean staff, Burkhardt said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised a shorter quarantine period on Monday. That could affect how long employees are away from work.

“We are seeing a shortage of capacity in hospitals across the state, particularly in the ICU department,” Burkhardt said.

“We have been particularly fortunate … we’re still feeling confident that we can serve the community, but it’s an ongoing struggle across the state,” she added.

OMC currently has more than 250 open positions — “an all-time record,” Burkhardt said — and while worker fatigue is a real thing, the OMC’s attrition rate has stayed the same as it was before the pandemic.

“I do think there’s a lot of health care worker fatigue,” Burkhardt said. “There’s no question that our staff is really struggling. But our attrition numbers don’t suggest that people are leaving the workforce in any greater numbers than they had previously.”

Most of the OMC staff who have left in the last few years have been retirees or have moved into traveling health care positions, which are more lucrative opportunities, Burkhardt said.

“We’ve actually added a lot of positions. That’s why we have so many open positions,” Burkhardt said.

Despite the absence of their peers, Burkhardt said the OMC staff is committed to providing services.

COVID cases

The number of cases of COVID-19 continue to climb on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Clallam County saw an increase of 112 cases from Tuesday’s 6,018 to 6,130. It has a case rate of 658 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks.

However, of the 10 hospitalizations reported on Tuesday, four had been discharged.

Of the six remaining in the hospital, four are in an intensive care unit. Berry said all are unvaccinated.

Jefferson County’s confirmed cases are up 16 from Tuesday with 1,496 cases and two hospitalizations; their vaccination and condition status is unknown.

Berry continues to urge residents to get vaccinated to avoid overtaxing the health care system and an already strained hospital staff.

“People really should get vaccinated if they haven’t already and get a booster to best counter this variant,” she said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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