Washington healthcare facilities brace for shortages as vaccination deadline looms

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Hospital leaders across Washington fear that some regions will face severe staffing shortages at medical facilities as the state approaches its cut-off for healthcare workers to get vaccinated.

During a Monday morning briefing from the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), CEO Cassie Sauer confirmed that 88% of the state’s healthcare workers are fully vaccinated ahead of the October 18 deadline.

However, staffing levels are already lower than state officials would feel comfortable with. She mentioned that some areas with particularly low vaccination rates will have to roll back certain healthcare services.

SURVEY: 88% of WA health care workers are fully vaccinated

“Staffing is tight in hospitals, so any loss of staff is a big deal, and there are some places with particularly low vaccination rates that will need to curtail services,” Sauer said. “There have been considerations of closing down or really limiting outpatient services; that there will be longer wait times for services, we could see some caps on inpatient admissions.”

Per vaccination metrics from the Washington DOH, eight of the state’s 39 counties remain under a 50% vaccination rate for the section of the population that is eligible to be inoculated. By this stage, that includes everyone age 12 and older. Many of these counties span the Eastern edge of the state including Columbia, Asotin, Garfield, Whitman, Pend Orielle, Stevens, and Ferry Counties.

As for the Tri-Cities region, Franklin County ranks 26th in terms of vaccine initiation at 60.1% of the eligible population. In the neighboring Benton County, 61.1% of the eligible population has initiated vaccination to date.

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Whether this leads to a significant rollback in staffing for Tri-Cities are healthcare and long-term care facilities is yet to be seen. However, the area is experiencing a much lower 14-day case rate than it held onto through the second half of the Summer into early Fall.

Washington state as a whole is still suffering more deaths than hospital officials are comfortable with.

“The death rate remains high. We have 15-to-20 deaths a day in Washington state from COVID,” Sauer said. ” That’s lower than it was a couple weeks ago, but that would be as if a medium-sized jet was crashing in SeaTac or Spokane every week; or if a duck boat was crashing every day.”

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