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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Local View: Invest to support post-acute health care system


If you have needed to visit an emergency room lately, you have likely experienced the overwhelming number of patients.

It is a problem evident in hospitals across the state.

In every corner of Washington, patients are waking up in hospital beds ready to be discharged. They no longer meet the clinical criteria to be hospitalized and are ready to be transferred to post-acute care facilities, but that transfer is delayed or, too often, never comes.

Dan Voelpel had terminal brain cancer. He was hospitalized after a fall and for days, his family searched for a long-term care facility so he could die peacefully. He was denied access to hospice because of a limited number of beds and both skilled nursing and assisted-living facilities did not have room to take him.

Dan died in a surgery post-op room at Tacoma General as his family exhausted every option they could think of.

A dementia patient spent four months in Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center after being found outside without a coat.

Their lengthy stay was not a result of needing hospital-level care. Systemic barriers — like the lengthy application process for Medicaid and waiting on courts to assign guardianship — delayed their long-term care placement.

Nearly 100 patients at Vancouver’s PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center spent a collective 1,901 additional nights in the hospital awaiting post-acute care because of similar delays.

The factors contributing to this problem are varied, but they lead to the same result: patients are not able to access the next appropriate level of care after hospitalization.

This isn’t good for anyone — the people stuck in hospital beds, those who have to wait longer to receive care and those who are working in hospitals.

We must make long-term investments in supporting our post-acute health care system to ensure people have access to the services they need in the right setting.

Addressing this issue is also a piece of the puzzle to address the burnout facing our health care workforce. It is critical that we relieve this burden while strengthening and supporting the health care workforce so they can deliver vital patient care.

Here in the Senate, we are championing bipartisan legislation to address these complex issues and support our health care system.

We have proudly voted for legislation that will reinforce safe-staffing standards, improve workers’ compensation benefits for nurses, have Washington join the Nurse Licensure Compact and remove barriers for retired nurses wanting to return to patient care.

As with any complex problem, the solutions to our current health care capacity and workforce challenges are multifaceted.

Improving the current situation for all will take time and include many steps, but we are committed to moving forward to support our health care workforce and in turn, improve timely access to care in the right settings for patients.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, is chair of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee and has served in the Legislature since 2013. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, was first elected to the Legislature in 2010 and is Republican leader on the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee.