Yakima hospital system still ‘fragile’ despite decrease in COVID-19 patients

YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital is still struggling to keep up with the high demand for patient care, despite seeing a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“Even though the numbers are kind of declining, we’re certainly not out of the woods,” said Dr. Marty Brueggemann, Chief Medical Officer at the hospital. “We remain very fragile as a hospital system.”

Brueggemann said while COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped by nearly half in recent weeks, there’s still a high volume of patients with non-COVID-related issues.

“We’re full and if you dump 20 patients on us right now, we don’t have the capacity to care for that — whether they’re COVID patients or non-COVID patients,” Brueggemann said.

Additionally, the hospital continues to deal with a staffing shortage — one that may worsen if a significant number of employees fail to meet the Oct. 18 deadline to be fully vaccinated per the state mandate.

Brueggemann said as of Thursday, at least 83% of the staff was fully vaccinated. He said they are continuing to receive vaccination cards and will have a clearer picture of where they stand closer to the deadline.

Anyone who has not provided the hospital with proof they are fully vaccinated by 5 p.m. on Oct. 18 will not be allowed to come into work until they are able to comply with the vaccine mandate. Brueggemann said they are furloughing employees, but will accept them back as soon as they are vaccinated.

In the meantime, health officials are anticipating an increase in COVID-19 transmission as temperatures drop and people spend more time indoors, especially with the upcoming holiday season.

“As people become more and more complacent with some of the recommendations around COVID, you start moving them indoors, concentrating them in rooms without a lot of air flow, your risk of getting it goes way up,” Brueggemann said.

Brueggemann said if people do not get vaccinated, wear face masks in public and follow other public health recommendations, the community could experience a repeat of the most recent COVID spike.

“We got caught off guard with this wave,” Brueggemann said. “We really thought at the end of June and beginning of July that we had kind of weathered COVID and then we ended up with the worst wave yet and that can happen again if we don’t pay attention.”

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