WhidbeyHealth Wire: Welcome to the new normal in health care

The new normal for Washington state hospitals is living with massive waves of new COVID-19 virus variations every few months, respiratory and flu outbreaks, long waits in our emergency rooms and clinics, financial difficulties, challenges recruiting and retaining staff, and availability of acute-care beds and post-care beds in nursing homes and other care facilities. The new normal has only served to exacerbate all of these challenges.

Our emergency rooms are challenged with a new type of patient, referred to as a “boarder” – a patient held in an emergency room bed who no longer needs or qualifies to be there. These patients are waiting for transfer to a higher or lower level of care without beds available or the ability to safely relocate the patient. These patients are being held for several days, weeks and sometimes months. Washington state has one of the lowest collective number of acute care and psychiatric beds in the nation. Occupying ER beds for extended periods of time means less access available for those needing emergency care.

There is no end in sight to the challenges recruiting and retaining staff – doctors, nurses, and front-line staff in health care across the state and Whidbey Island. The shortage of clinical professionals means that a hospital or assisted living facility being “at capacity” no longer means they are out of beds – rather, they may have an excess of beds, but do not have the personnel to safely manage the care of additional patients.

A hospital may have 100 beds, but only 75 can be used due to staffing limitations. For those living along the I-5 corridor that means finding another hospital (if you can) sometimes hundreds of miles from Whidbey Island.

This is our “new normal” in health care. We are looking at progressive ways to ensure our patients can continue to receive the care when and where they need it, in the appropriate setting.

• Upgrading our processes and technology to hire people more quickly, along with deploying recruitment and retention strategies.

• Working with our congressional delegation to find funding.

• Implementing virtual health strategies, including telemedicine for minor urgent care 24/7.

• Improving through-put in our two walk-in clinics and expanding services in our newly re-opened Freeland Primary Care clinic.

• Implementing outpatient behavioral health services both in clinic and virtual settings.

• Introducing a new customer service program.

We strongly encourage the Whidbey community to utilize our Walk-In Clinics whenever possible. Everything we do is aimed at providing value to our patients, providers, employees, and community.

Together we will manage and improve health care services under the new normal, together.

WhidbeyHealth Wire is a regular column from the island’s public hospital district.