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COVID-19 straining St. Joe's hospital; Volunteer medical staff sought

Bellingham, WA - The number of COVID-positive inpatients at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center has been reaching new records nearly every day in the last seven days, causing additional stress on an already burdened healthcare system in the state. With the expectation that the system will remain stressed in the coming weeks, officials from Whatcom County and PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center are once again calling on the community to take actions to help alleviate the incredible strain on local healthcare resources.

“The hospital is extremely busy, frequently over 100% capacity, with patients in every available bed in every unit,” said Sudhakar Karlapudi, MBBS, MBA, FACP, the chief medical officer for PeaceHealth in the Northwest. “The same is true for our Emergency Department, where patients are experiencing longer than usual wait times. We have the capacity to care for those who are acutely ill, but respectfully ask those who are not facing an urgent or life-threatening condition, to seek care elsewhere.” Karlapudi also stressed that the ED is not the place to go for COVID-19 testing if you are asymptomatic or are experiencing mild COVID-like symptoms.

The healthcare system is further stressed by limitations at skilled nursing and long-term care facilities throughout the county, which are also experiencing elevated levels of COVID-19 cases and challenging their ability to accept significant numbers of new patients. Whatcom County Health Department is exploring ways to expand capacity at skilled nursing facilities where patients with lower acuity healthcare needs could be discharged.

“Our emergency care system has been stretched to its limits,” said Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu. “It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to be mindful of our actions and to protect ourselves and our loved ones by following public health guidelines.”

Health department and PeaceHealth administrators urge everyone to do their part in reducing the burden on our local healthcare providers by:

Getting a booster vaccine, or the first vaccine if a series has not been started.

Wearing the best mask you can, preferably a tight-fitting, high-quality mask like a KN95 or KF-94,around other people.

Staying home and away from others if you have any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

Making use of the Emergency Department for emergency care only: For COVID-19 this means seeking emergency care if you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, blue or gray-colored skin on lips and/or face.

In addition, the health department recommends people postpone social gatherings to the extent possible in order to help reduce the spread of the still-deadly coronavirus. “Now is not the best time for large parties and gatherings,” said Erika Lautenbach, health department director. “Omicron is surging through our community right now, and we can see the effect it’s having on our healthcare system. Postponing gatherings can both protect you and your loved ones now and can help prevent future hospitalizations from COVID.”

The health department is also re-upping the call for licensed healthcare professionals to volunteer to assist with supporting any surge operations at the hospital and skilled nursing facilities. Clinicians with current credentials may sign up to volunteer by emailing whatcomcountymrc@co.whatcom.wa.us to express interest, ask any questions, and request an application.


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