Pullman Regional Hospital admitted 17 COVID-19 patients in August, which is the most in one month since October of last year.
Nearly all of its COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
The PRH Board of Commissioners on Wednesday discussed this and other issues related to COVID-19, including the number of the hospital’s own staff vaccinated and how staff have struggled with the demand for COVID-19 testing.
Chief Nursing Officer Jeannie Eylar informed the board that of those 17 COVID-19 patients in August, eight were transferred to Pullman from other hospitals in the region. COVID-19 patients stay at PRH an average of about 4.3 days.
Pullman received dozens of requests from regional hospitals — as many as 40-50 in one weekend — asking to transfer their patients to Pullman. Because of its own limited capacity, PRH refused most of them.
“We are trying to discern that very carefully and not put our own community at risk for not being able to meet their medical needs, but trying to be a good team player,” Eylar said.
Several weekends ago, PRH had to transfer one of its own patients to a hospital in Great Falls, Mont., because that was the closest facility that could take in a patient who needed dialysis.
The vast majority of Pullman’s COVID-19 patients have one thing in common.
“I would say 95 to 99 percent of our inpatients are unvaccinated,” she said.
Eylar said she is anticipating the number of patients to continue increasing this fall, especially with large public events on the calendar such as Washington State University football games.
“Even though I’m a very optimistic person, I don’t think we’re at the worst of this, yet,” he said.
The COVID-19 patients are trending younger. Less than 20 percent of patients in August were older than 65, Eylar said. In October, 85 percent of COVID-19 patients were older than 65.
“I have no doubt in my head from the science and from what we’re seeing that vaccination is the key to getting out of this pandemic,” she said. “And that the masks are also very helpful in not spreading it.”
Not all of the hospital’s own staff are vaccinated.
Bernadette Berney, chief human resource officer, said 79 percent of the 537 people on staff are vaccinated.
The hospital announced in August it is requiring its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine unless they get an exemption for medical or religious reasons by Oct. 18.
Of the 115 that remain unvaccinated, 23 were granted a religious exemption. Three were granted a medical exemption and the rest are still undecided.
Those with exemptions must wear medical masks, practice proper hand hygiene and maintain 6 feet of separation in the hospital’s break rooms. The exemptions last one year.
Most of these staff members have face-to-face contact with patients, Berney said.
Since the hospital’s vaccine requirement, four employees have resigned, she said.
As health care professionals are dealing with an increase in patients, it is also working to better respond to an increased need in COVID-19 testing.
Pullman Regional Hospital spokeswoman Alison Weigley said leaders at the hospital, Washington State University, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories have met to discuss how to meet this demand.
The hospital last year had more staff to spare to administer tests during a time when elective surgeries and other services were put on hold after the pandemic started.
That is not the case this year, CEO Scott Adams said.
“We have fewer staff and we have a lot more patients, and not just COVID patients,” he said. “There’s multiple effects of the pandemic and one of them is people who delayed care, whether it’s surgical care or medical intervention, are now coming to their doctor and oftentimes they come to the hospital for other services. And so everybody’s busy. So our capacity to provide the same type of testing services we did a year ago is just not there.”
Last year, one of the only ways to manage the pandemic was through testing, he said. Now, vaccines are the best tool to curbing the pandemic and public health officials could have a helpful role in educating the public about the importance of vaccines.
“The best way to manage it is to get vaccinated,” Adams said.
Health agencies on Wednesday reported 28 new COVID-19 cases on the Palouse and no new deaths related to the virus.
There were 16 new confirmed or probable cases in Latah County. Those patients include one person between ages 13-17, six people between ages 18-29, two people in their 30s, three in their 40s, two in their 50s, one in their 60s and one in their 70s.
There have been 3,400 total confirmed cases, 221 probable cases and 18 deaths in Latah County since the beginning of the pandemic.
Whitman County reported 12 new cases Wednesday, pushing the county’s total since the start of the pandemic to 4,831.
Total hospitalizations remain unchanged at 146. The number of deaths also remains unchanged at 54.
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