Pullman Regional Hospital still accepting patient transfers while other facilities near capacity

PRH has one of highest nurse-to-patient ratios in Washington; medical department has seen fewer Omicron deaths than with Delta



Staff members are working overtime and taking extra shifts to make up for the increase in patients, said Chief Medical Officer Pete Mikkselsen.

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen reporter

Pullman Regional Hospital is preparing to receive patients transferred from nearby hospitals as many medical facilities in the region are full in the wake of the omicron variant. 

Like other hospitals, the nationwide COVID-19 surge hit PRH hard, said Chief Medical Officer Pete Mikkelsen. Healthcare workers have been treating patients with the omicron variant for several weeks.

“Three weeks ago is when we started seeing increases,” Mikkelsen said. “We’ve seen the most new patients in the medical department.”

The most recent surge in cases has been the largest recorded in Whitman County since the beginning of the pandemic, said external relations director Alison Weigley.

The hospital has not run out of room for patients, but because nearly all hospitals in the area are full, the option to transfer patients is extremely limited, Weigley said.

“There’s a delicate balance in expecting a transfer from another hospital and keeping beds open,” she said.

Weigley said PRH has one of the highest nurse-to-patient ratios in the state, and partially because of that, the nationwide hiring shortages have not affected the services they offer.

PRH has not lost a lot of employees compared to other hospitals. Weigley said those working in the medical field have a deep commitment to public health.

“We’ve been pretty lucky that we haven’t been affected,” Weigley said. “When you enter the healthcare field, you typically have a passion for your work.”

Despite PRH maintaining staffing numbers, the new surge and COVID-19, in general, have taken a toll on the healthcare workers and their mental health.

“This pandemic has been trying and challenging,” Weigley said. “This new wave has been challenging. If you have a nurse in your life, tell them thank you.”

Mikkelson said PRH has had to make changes to accommodate the new surge of COVID-19 cases, including adding more nurses and support staff.

“We experienced something similar with the delta variant,” he said. “There was a 30-40% increase in the medical department in the fall.”

Hospital staff members have taken on additional measures to try to prevent spreading the omicron variant because it is more contagious than previous variants, Mikkelsen said.

“We’ve taken additional eye protection in addition to masking,” Mikkelsen said. “We’ve added additional masking requirements. People are taking breaks separately as well.”

Mikkelsen said there are new restrictions for visitors, such as limiting visits to the hospital and closing the cafeteria to the public.

Staff members have had to work overtime and take extra shifts to accommodate the increase in patients, he said.

PRH has been preparing for transfers from other hospitals as many are completely full, he said.

“Spokane has large hospitals that have been completely full,” Mikkelsen said. “Nationwide hospitals have the most patients they ever have.”

Mikkelsen said one of the few positives of the new surge is that there have been fewer deaths than there were during the delta variant surge. This is partially because vaccination rates are higher, and there are antiviral treatments available to help prevent COVID-19.

“Vaccination is the number one thing to protect yourself, and that includes the recommended booster,” Mikkelsen said. “I would say we’re seeing a few less serious cases than the delta variant.”

Mikkelsen said experts expect the surge will likely peak in mid-February.

Besides getting vaccinated, Mikkelsen said it is best for the general public to continue social distancing and wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The other thing that is important is to take care of your health in general,” Mikkelsen said. “That’s another way we can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”