Yakima hospital receives 40 nurses from FEMA to help with staffing shortage

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital has been dealing with a significant staffing shortage since before the pandemic started and has been struggling to fill open positions, but is now receiving assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Dr. Marty Brueggemann, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said they reached out to Gov. Jay Inslee and applied through the state to receive federal assistance.

“We were one of a handful of hospitals selected for FEMA support because of our status as a COVID hotspot,” Brueggemann said.

The hospital now has an additional 35 registered nurses and five nursing assistants, who will continue working in Yakima through March 2022. According to the hospital, the state will pay their salaries as long as they’re working to help COVID-19 patients.

“It does help significantly,” said Dr. Bismark Fernandez, who works as a hospitalist at YVMH. “I’ve worked with some of the FEMA nurses. They have been really great with our patients, especially our COVID cases.”

Brueggemann said they’ve seen a decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations following the last surge, but are still seeing high patient volumes throughout the hospital. He said many patients are just now coming in after delaying their routine medical care during the pandemic.

“There’s been several days in the last month or so when we’ve actually had more patients than our licensed bed capacity,” Brueggemann said.

Bruegemann said the hospital has more than 100 open nursing positions. He said they’ve been trying to recruit through local nursing programs — offering residency spots, sign-up bonuses and other incentives — but competition for those qualified applicants is fierce.

“Unfortunately, these aren’t our proprietary things to do,” Brueggemann said. “Everybody’s offering these things and so it just kind of keeps us on a level playing field with a lot of the other organizations.”

Brueggemann said while the lower COVID-19 hospitalization rates and addition of the FEMA nurses is encouraging, things could go downhill again if people don’t exercise caution during the holiday season.

“If you know that you and your family are vaccinated, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to gather and enjoy your meal together,” Brueggemann said. ” If there are unvaccinated people in the group, then we do encourage masking, especially in indoor settings where there’s a small space and not a lot of ventilation.”

Brueggemann also recommends purchasing at-home rapid COVID tests to screen guests before the gathering begins — a practice he and his family do regularly.

“We use them frequently, every time someone gets a sniffle — and I got four kids at home so that’s a lot — and we can just run the test and it’s easy,” Brueggemann said.

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