Providence Regional Medical Center Everett is reviewing the death of an emergency room patient after she became unresponsive in the hospital’s waiting room this month.
Much remains unclear about what happened when the 41-year-old Arlington woman arrived at the hospital’s ER on Nov. 3, but Providence spokespeople have refuted reports that she died while waiting for care in the lobby. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office earlier this month said the woman died in the ER lobby, but corrected its statement Tuesday afternoon to say she became unresponsive in the waiting room and was pronounced dead while in an emergency room bed.
The cause and manner of her death are pending and will likely take at least a month to finalize, said Nicole Daugherty, operations manager for the Medical Examiner’s Office. The office is not naming the patient out of respect for her family.
“We are deeply saddened by this incident and our deepest sympathies are with the patient’s family and loved ones,” Kristy Carrington, interim chief executive of Providence Swedish’s North Puget Sound, said in a statement. “We are providing on-site counselors for the patient’s family, our nurses, caregivers and physicians.”
No further information about the patient was available because of patient privacy concerns, hospital spokesperson Casey Calamusa said. Meanwhile, Providence has begun a “thorough” review of the death and what led to it, the hospital said.
The union that represents Providence Everett staffers is seeking more information about the death.
“Our union did hear about this, takes it very seriously … and is working with members to file appropriate complaints around staffing and safety,” said Anna Minard, spokesperson for UFCW 3000.
While there’s been no official indication yet that low staffing levels or any hospital decisions contributed to her death, vague details around her ER experience have, in part, prompted local elected officials to voice general concerns to Providence executives about workforce strain.
“We, the undersigned, are collectively writing to express our disappointment and share our concerns with Providence leadership’s handling of the staffing crisis amongst nurses,” Snohomish County Council members wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to Providence executives.
Council chair Megan Dunn, who represents District 2 in Snohomish County, said she’s long been aware of health care staffing strains because nurses have shared their experiences with burnout at council meetings. News of the ER death also contributed to the urgency of the letter, Dunn said.
In the letter, Dunn and fellow council members Jared Mead, Sam Low, Nate Nehring and Strom Peterson suggested Providence leaders meet more regularly with nurses to hear their concerns; advocate for more funding or regulatory changes in state law; reinstate exit interview practices; eliminate pay raises for high-level leadership; provide financial incentives for nurses; and begin contract negotiations early.
Providence leaders responded three days later, highlighting some points in their plan to address recruitment and retention. The response included efforts to communicate more regularly with front-line staffers, add more trainings and job openings for nursing assistants, work with local unions and continue to offer “market-competitive” pay and benefits.
The county council’s concerns with hospital staffing problems also reflect growing strains within ERs throughout the country, including in Washington. Last month, an ER charge nurse in Silverdale called a nonemergency line at Kitsap 911 during a desperate night of low staffing and high patient volumes. No patients were harmed that night because of the staffing holes, the nurse said, but she added a “catastrophe” could be on the horizon if workforce shortages continue.
CORRECTION: The last name of Nicole Daugherty, with the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.