Two Vancouver long-term care facilities are opening units to treat non-COVID patients who no longer need acute care. The units are an effort to ease the strain on Clark County hospitals that have been stretched thin by the omicron surge.
As part of a series of actions taken last month by Gov. Jay Inslee to assist struggling hospitals statewide, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has contracted with 10 Washington nursing homes — including Vancouver Specialty and Rehabilitative Care and The Oaks at Timberline in Vancouver — to staff dedicated units for non-COVID patients. The units will operate until June 30.
Roughly 250 registered nurses from a temporary nurse staffing agency have been contracted by DSHS to staff the 10 units around the clock. According to DSHS spokesperson Chris Wright, some 50 of the contracted staff will be in Vancouver. Staff will remain at the facility they are assigned to until the units dissolve in June, he said.
The unit at Vancouver Specialty and Rehabilitative Care opened this week, and the unit at The Oaks at Timberline will open in the next three to four weeks. Together, the two units are expected to free up as many as 44 acute care hospital beds in Clark County, Wright said. The program is expected to free up more than 240 hospital beds statewide.
As of Tuesday, 97 percent of Clark County’s hospital beds and 96.2 percent of its ICU beds were occupied, according to Clark County Public Health.
“The units will function independently but should easily integrate into the nursing facility’s operations if needed,” Wright said. “The contracted staff brought in will be providing direct care to residents in these units but will be expected to follow the nursing facility’s internal policies.”
The state is still funding separate Rapid Response teams that are deployed across the state at facilities with staffing shortages.
Facilities selected to host units agreed to participate in the program, Wright said. Facilities were selected based on their geographic distribution and need, their history of regulatory compliance and the speed at which a unit could be made available.
Long-term care facilities have faced severe staffing challenges during the omicron surge, which has limited the number of non-COVID patients the facilities have been able to admit from hospitals. In January, fewer than 20 beds were available at nursing homes in Clark and Cowlitz counties for patients being discharged from hospitals but still in need of care, according to a spokesperson for PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. Pre-COVID, 60 to 70 beds were typically available.
“The high transmissibility of the omicron variant has significantly increased the amount of COVID-related hospitalizations in Washington,” said DSHS Assistant Secretary Bill Moss. “This is a much-needed resource that aligns with the governor’s initiative of supporting hospital staff and their capacity to treat patients.”