The past month has been one with exceptional volume of very ill patients coming to our emergency rooms and clinics, with many needing advanced care in the ICU. This flu season has ended the lives of many the likes we have not seen since 2010. This is 172 people’s lives cut short by this very deadly disease.
During this epidemic, there were several areas of learning. WSHA will continue to be engaged with Department of Health (DOH) on improving surge response, and there will be more to come, but here are a few initial key learnings.
The DOH leads the response to infectious disease and provides coordination and resources in an emergency. Accurate census and surge reporting through the regional health care coalitions and WATrac are essential to accurate assessments and good decision making. Regulatory allowances for hospitals that manage surge capacity need to be made, but this doesn’t happen without a common, clear understanding of the impact.
Long-term care stopped taking transfers from hospitals in many communities. A system issue was identified, and DOH addressed it directly with those providers. But moving patients into skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and other longer-term care centers is an ongoing issue that impacts hospital capacity in both flu and non-flu seasons.
Adapting to the increased volumes in Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) may require changes or clarifications from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Getting a federal waiver is currently the only process to formally give permission to exceed capacity, but that route has many other ramifications. More work needs to be done in this area to ensure that CAHs are not penalized for providing care in a crisis.
Thank you again for the many ways you and your staff went above and beyond to taking care of patients during this time of need in our communities.
WSHA Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives