Jefferson Healthcare, OMC under great strain

Jefferson Healthcare and Olympic Medical Center are straining under the stress of increased patient load from COVID-19 and general care, but staffing levels are so far keeping up, officials said Thursday.

Both hospitals have a high patient census, with Jefferson Healthcare (JHC) having 19 patients, five of whom are positive for COVID-19, and Olympic Medical Center (OMC) having 54 patients, with 19 COVID-19 patients, officials said.

The data compiled for OMC is as of 6:30 a.m. Thursday, while the JHC data is from about 4 p.m. Thursday.

Officials emphasized the patient data is changing constantly due to the high COVID-19 virus activity on the North Olympic Peninsula.

OMC personnel spoke at a press conference, which they said will become a routine event for that hospital.

Jefferson Healthcare had seen a quick rise in COVID patients, with two at 6 a.m. and five by 11:15 a.m. Thursday.

Of the 19 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at OMC, 13 were unvaccinated. Four COVID-19 patients were in the intensive care unit, but their vaccination status was unavailable Thursday, said Darryl Wolfe, OMC chief executive officer.

At Jefferson Healthcare, four of the five patients with COVID-19 were in the ICU and unvaccinated. The fifth case is not actually hospitalized for COVID-19, but rather for other health issues; the person is fully vaccinated but tested positive when given a routine test, said Amy Yaley, communications and marketing director.

Officials at both hospitals are seeing a dramatic increase of patients at drive-up testing sites, walk-in clinics and emergency rooms with either COVID-19 symptoms or confirmed cases of COVID-19, in addition to patients with other health issues.

“We have not seen these levels of patients coming through our express clinics, through our ED (emergency department), and we certainly have never had five COVID patients before,” Yaley said.

Wolfe said: “We’re busy with our normal medical work that we do all the time. However, the COVID surge is definitely become a bigger factor for us over the last few weeks.

“The cases are at all-time levels here in Clallam County, but so is hospitalizations, and that directly impacts us and our operations every day.

“OMC is busier than ever, and COVID-19 is just another wrinkle we’re working with.”

Wolfe said about 170 people a day are being tested at OMC’s drive-up testing site.

Both hospitals have adequate staffing levels — but the increase in cases is straining them, said Yaley and Jennifer Burkhardt, chief human resources officer for OMC.

“We are adequately staffed, but we don’t have an abundance of staff,” Burkhardt said.

Yaley said: “We’re staffed to our staffing standards, but our bench is not as deep as we would like it to be.”

Some of the additional strain on the local hospital system is due to the fact that hospitals across the state are near capacity. That means local patients who would ordinarily be transferred for higher-level care often must wait before that can happen.

“As a critical-access hospital, we frequently provide the care that we can, but often we have to airlift to a hospital for care that we’re not equipped to deal with,” Yaley said. “There’s nowhere to send those people now.”

Unlike the spring of 2020, OMC and JHC have been able to keep up with having large amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep their staff and patients safe, said Burkhardt and Yaley.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

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