CMC dealing with COVID challenges


Last updated 9/29/2021 at 7:52am

Coulee Medical Center expects to make 15-20 “accommodations” for employees who have requested to not be vaccinated against the coronavirus for medical or religious reasons, the top executive said Monday, but will likely deny two such requests.

Chief Executive Officer Ramona Hicks reported to the hospital district board of directors at their meeting via Zoom on Monday night.

Rural hospitals across the country have been familiar with staffing shortages for years, but with the latest delta variant-fueled wave of COVID-19, even larger hospitals across the country say their scrambling schedules and asking extra of overworked staff.

So when Gov. Jay Inslee announced all medical workers would have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 to keep their jobs, with only very narrow exceptions allowed, short-staffed hospitals started to worry, especially in rural areas.

“We’ll see when we get to that date how we’re doing,” Hicks said.

The disease itself is causing staffing challenges as staffers must enter quarantine for days after possible exposures if they can’t quickly test negative for the virus. But those must be done with the more precise “PCR” tests, which out-of-town labs can take days to finish.

That problem will soon be better at CMC, which just received a $55,000 machine to perform those tests in-house. Staff who may have been exposed by a family member returning home after their own exposure elsewhere can be put back to work more quickly.

Hicks said CMC has not been hit as hard as nearby facilities that have had to “board” patients in hallways, but they have often had to keep patients at CMC who need an intensive care unit at a larger facility because none are available.

Dr. Sam Hsieh, the chief of medical staff and surgeon, said that during the past couple months it has “been extremely, extremely difficult to transfer out patients” from the emergency room to other facilities due to the lack of ICU beds or personnel there.

He advises everyone to avoid any kind of risky behavior that might put them in an emergency department, more so than usual. “It may be difficult for us to get you to a place you need to go.”

Hsieh said CMC has not so far had to stop doing surgeries and has even been approached by other doctors and facilities to take patients they can’t handle because of the virus’s latest surge.

Even so, Hsieh said, a shortage of medical assistants nationwide may force a cutback at CMC in the number of patients its providers are able to each see.

Hsieh also announced that he and his wife, endocrinologist Dr. Elizabeth Hsu, will be moving to Seattle, while still maintaining their practices here and even keeping their home here.


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