Harborview still way over capacity, as long-term care shortage persists

September 14, 2022

Harborview Medical Center continues to care for nearly 100 more inpatients than its licensed capacity as it struggles to discharge patients who no longer need hospitalization but still need significant care and have nowhere to go, the hospital’s CEO said Wednesday.

Harborview, which is publicly owned and serves as the trauma center for much of the Northwest, is licensed for 413 inpatient beds.

It currently has about 500 inpatients, CEO Sommer Kleweno Walley told King County’s Regional Policy Committee, comprising city and county government officials.

The hospital averaged about 477 inpatients, well above its licensed capacity, through fiscal year 2022, which ended in July.

The capacity crisis peaked a month ago when the hospital had 562 inpatients and had to divert less-acute patients to other area hospitals.

Harborview also serves as the disaster preparedness hospital for Seattle and King County and serves difficult-to-treat populations, including people in King County jails and those with mental illness and addiction.

“We had literally no further place to board patients,” Kleweno Walley said. “The next car wreck that needed to come in, we could not care for at that point.”

The “basic life support divert” in effect for about a week in August resulted in about 10 fewer patients per day arriving at Harborview, even as the hospital continued to accept the most critically ill patients.

The primary issue facing Harborview, as well as other hospitals in the region, is not that there are too many patients coming in; it’s that it’s difficult to impossible to discharge patients when they’re ready to leave.

When Harborview had those 562 patients in August, 152 of them did not need to be there, Kleweno Walley said.

They needed to be in a long-term care or skilled nursing facility, like an adult family home, with help dressing, eating and bathing, but without the acute medical services that a hospital provides.

About half of the state’s nursing homes report being short-staffed, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, about three times more than the number reporting low staffing levels near the start of the COVID pandemic.

Read the full story from the Seattle Times here.