Post contributed by Josh Pelonio, Skagit County EMS Director
Our healthcare system, including hospitals, emergency departments and emergency medical services (EMS) are there to take care of you during times of crisis, but we’re unable to do this critical work if we’re in crisis ourselves. With COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continuing to be at historic highs, the healthcare system is taxed and we’re seeing impacts to quality, and availability of care, system wide.
Increased hospital patient volumes are creating region-wide challenges with bed availability. When emergency department or in-patient hospital beds aren’t available, hospitals in Skagit enter what’s called ‘diversion status,’ meaning that EMS personnel are asked to route patients arriving by ambulance to alternate hospitals, including neighboring counties. EMS personnel must then drive farther to get patients the care they need, or they must wait longer at local hospitals for emergency department beds to become available. Either way, hospital bed delay results in delayed patient care and can negatively impact patient outcome. It can also mean a delay in available personnel and equipment to respond to the next emergency in the community.
Statewide, we are seeing the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rates ever, with 17.7 patients per 100,000 residents between August 22 and August 28 (the most current complete data). This is higher than December 2020, when we saw between 8 and 10 patients per 100,000 residents averaged over a seven-day period.
We also seeing about one-third of all ICU beds in the State being occupied by COVID-19 patients, which is again higher than December 2020 when we saw about one-fifth of beds occupied. Locally, our total ICU occupancy is at 88 percent, meaning that we’re nearly at capacity.
All this to say, the healthcare system is overwhelmed and healthcare staff, including first responders are exhausted. Skagit—we need your help to protect the capacity of our healthcare system.
This situation doesn’t just impact COVID-19 patients. It impacts car crash victims, heart attack patients, people in mental health crisis, those struggling to control their diabetes, gunshot victims and the child who broke his arm climbing a tree. It impacts everyone. When our healthcare services are in crisis, every single individual in our community is at greater risk of poor health outcomes from any acute injury or illness. This is not a good situation to be in.
Fortunately, there are two simple things that you can do to help:
1. Reduce your risk. Not just from COVID-19, but from all injuries and illnesses. Take caution and use appropriate healthcare services like your primary care doctor or urgent care for minor illness and injury and only use 911 for emergencies.
If looking for COVID-19 testing, please do not go to your local emergency department ! Find a testing provider near you by going to: www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/TestingforCOVID19/TestingLocations.
2. Get vaccinated against COVID-19. And if you have been vaccinated, talk to others in your life about getting vaccinated as well. Getting the vaccine is a safe, effective, and totally free tool that you have available to you. CDC data shows that over 99.99% of people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 did not die or even require hospitalization and the highest hospitalization rates remain in areas with low vaccination rates. By getting vaccinated, you help stabilize our healthcare system, and directly help improve health outcomes for those in crisis.
Skagit Public Health offers free COVID-19 vaccination for those 12 years of age or older at the Fairgrounds site from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also find other providers in our community at www.skagitcounty.net/covidvaccine.
Get vaccinated, or help someone get vaccinated, today.