OLYMPIA — Washington state could soon have up to 1,000 additional emergency hospital beds supplied by the federal government to handle new coronavirus patients, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday afternoon.
Separately, Inslee said he has spoken with the U.S. Secretary of Defense to discuss how the federal government can help further with the surge in patients that hospitals and medical staff are expected to see.
“They have a variety of resources to use to stand up medical hospitals,” said Inslee, during a bill-signing event. He added later: “And I would predict that we’ll be getting some real help from the Department of Defense. And that will be necessary.”
The two measures come as Washington officials scramble to build out an emergency health care system to accommodate an expected surge of patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
The 1,000 beds come courtesy of a U.S. government program known as the Federal Medical Station, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to Washington Military Department spokeswoman Karina Shagren.
Washington state National Guard members who were in Yakima on a pre-scheduled drill last weekend helped to unload that equipment, which contained supplies for 250 emergency beds, according to Shagren.
She isn’t sure when the next delivery of emergency beds will be made, Shagren wrote, “but we’re tracking.”
Such stations can “provide surge beds to support healthcare systems anywhere in the U.S. that are impacted by disasters or public health emergencies,” according to an HHS website. They are not considered mobile and once established, they cannot be relocated.
Each station includes “a three-day supply of medical and pharmaceutical resources to sustain from 50 to 250 stable primary or chronic care patients who require medical and nursing services,” according to the website.
Local, regional or federal health care providers can staff the stations.
The state is also exploring the possibility of using schools, warehouses, hotels and other buildings as medical sites, Inslee said.
A bigger challenge than finding those spaces, Inslee said, is the need for qualified medical staffers.
Inslee’s remarks Tuesday came after the governor signed a bill into law that authorizes using $200 million in state budget reserves to fund the state’s response to the coronavirus. Most of that money will go to help state and local health offices responding to the outbreak.
The state recently began asking for emergency volunteer health care workers who can be deployed if clinics and hospitals run low on staff after a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. The state hopes to add more of those workers — such as doctors and nurses — to its roster in the coming days.
Meanwhile, to stock up on badly needed medical equipment, Inslee said the state is looking to acquire more ventilators and other medical gear through the private market.
“We are in the midst of procuring a whole host of medical equipment, from ventilators to masks to gloves,” he said.
In related developments, the governor said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has agreed to change how medical equipment is prioritized from the federal stockpiles.
Previously, that medical gear – such as protective masks and gloves for healthcare workers – was given to states based on their population size, Inslee said.
But the change will help prioritize Washington and its severe COVID-19 outbreak, Inslee, said, which will the state replenish its stockpile for mask as and gloves.
The National Guard is not under orders to deploy the emergency hospital beds, according to Shagren. The equipment is pre-positioned in case it is needed and, “There have been no requests for those resources,” she added.
Shagren said the National Guard would be able to help unload more supplies if needed.
But as far as having National Guard members oversee medical facilities, “There has been absolutely no discussion on that – nor do we have the capacity to do that,” Shagren wrote.
The remarks comes as rumors fly about the deployment of National Guard soldiers as state and federal officials respond to the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday morning, “No one has been put on State Active Duty to support the response,” Shagren wrote. The exception is one soldier who serves full-time as a liaison officer at the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray, she added.