Health care workers are worn out and resources are strained, but local physicians promised the public Tuesday the Pullman medical community is working hard to make sure everyone gets the care they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The physicians took part in a news conference to discuss the state of Pullman’s health care resources and to urge people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

While the increased volume of patients has pushed local facilities to their limit, Dr. Peter Mikkelsen, director of emergency services at Pullman Regional Hospital, refuted a rumor he heard about the hospital’s emergency department turning people away.

“We’re not turning anybody away from the emergency department,” he said. “I can guarantee you that.”

The hospital and local clinics do have to make difficult decisions in other areas, however. Occasionally, ambulances may have to be diverted to other hospitals that can provide the care a patient needs, Mikkelsen said.

When emergency room doctors have to transfer a patient to another hospital, they may have to spend hours making 10 to 15 calls to other regional facilities to see if they have room for the sick individual.

Mikkelsen said it has become more common for the hospital to cancel a person’s surgery the day before it’s scheduled to occur because the hospital does not have enough capacity.

PRH has also taken in patients from other Washington, Montana and Idaho facilities. Mikkelsen said PRH has not had to implement crisis standards of care like Idaho hospitals have done. That decision would have to come from Washington state officials.

Dr. Stephanie Fosback said Palouse Medical is seeing double and triple the normal number of patients with urgent care needs and has to put a cap on the number of patients it can see every day.

The stress caused by the pandemic has affected her colleagues and caused some of them to leave.

“Over the past few months I have seen more and more health care workers getting tired and worn out,” she said.

Still, she said health care workers are dedicated to helping the entire community.

“We are resilient, we are tough and we’re going to keep showing up for people, but we are tired,” she said.

Dr. Katie Hryniewicz, of Palouse Pediatrics, said her clinic is seeing double its normal volume of patients. The pandemic has left long lasting effects on the area’s youth, she said.

“In my clinic, I have never diagnosed more eating disorders, or more depression, or more anxiety in teenagers and younger children than I have in the last 18 months,” she said.

Mikkelsen said approximately 95 percent of the hospital’s patients with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

All of the physicians who participated in Tuesday’s news conference implored the public to get vaccinated.

“We know that it’s safe,” Hryniewicz said. “We know that it’s effective.”

Fosback said the vaccine is a personal choice, but those who choose to get it are less likely to get sick and die from the disease. It also protects others around them.

“Your vaccine helps protect that kid standing next to you who may have cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia,” she said. “Your vaccine helps protect our community.”

Mikkelsen said vaccinated people may still get COVID-19, but their chances of getting severely ill and hospitalized are “magnitudes lower” with the vaccine. As for the hospital’s own employees, Mikkelsen said 10 PRH staff members have resigned since the hospital’s put in place a vaccine mandate for its workers.

Dr. Sunday Henry, interim director of medical services for Cougar Health Services, mentioned the high vaccination rate among Washington State University college students. As of Monday, she said, 80 percent of enrolled WSU students in Pullman are vaccinated. She said this has decreased the spread of the virus as well as the demand for COVID-19 testing.

Fosback said people who refuse the vaccine do so because they are afraid of the unknown.

“They’re fearing the long-term effects,” she said.

Fosback said she cannot think of any vaccine that has long term effects, outside of immunity.

Mikkelsen on Monday also announced that in response to the demand for COVID-19 testing, a new centralized testing center will open today at 690 SE Bishop Boulevard. People who want to get tested there will need an order from their physician. They should expect results in 24 hours, he said.

Whitman County on Tuesday reported four more hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in addition to 42 new confirmed cases.

There have been 5,445 total cases and 185 hospitalizations in the county since the pandemic began.

No new deaths were reported Tuesday. Two deaths related to COVID-19 were reported Monday, and that pushed the county’s total to 57.

Fifteen new cases and no new deaths were reported Tuesday in Latah County.

The newest cases include two people younger than 18, four people between ages 18-29, three people in their 30s, one person in their 40s, three people in their 50s and two people in their 60s.

There have been 3,860 confirmed cases, 238 probable cases and 24 deaths in the county since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

Recommended for you