Washington state now has a roster of more than 100 emergency volunteer health care workers who can be deployed if hospitals and clinics run short on staff due to the surge in coronavirus cases, a state health official said Monday.
“We just got the system up last week and they continue to pour in,” said Kristin Peterson, assistant secretary of the Washington Department of Health.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s declaration of the coronavirus pandemic as a state emergency allows the Health Department to ease certain health care licensing requirements, allowing doctors, nurses and other practitioners to work in Washington without an active state license, she said.
The allowance applies to health care practitioners now licensed in other states, or those who have inactive Washington licenses. Those eligible can register with the Health Department as an “emergency volunteer health practitioner,” Peterson said.
“It’s really a critical initiative to get folks into the state quickly or to mobilize those in the state who have a state license who may not be currently practicing,” Peterson said.
“Maybe they work at a public agency and just haven’t had their health care practitioners’ license active,” she said. “So, we check to make sure the license is in good standing, and they are then put on a roster that we keep and we deploy the provider to an areas in need.”
The initiative also allows out-of-state health care workers to practice in Washington state through “virtual care” remote options, she said.
The state Health Department currently has no way of independently tracking capacity issues at local hospitals and clinics, Peterson said, so it’s largely reliant on them to find out about staffing shortages they might face. State officials also are now coming up with a strategy with health care groups about other options to help with surge capacity issues, Peterson said.
“What are the barriers to getting licensure quickly and are there barriers to practice that we, at DOH, have the authority to address? We’re working on that as we speak,” Peterson said.
With schools now shut down by Inslee’s executive order through April 24, school nurses may be one available resource to tap.
“We haven’t talked about that,” Peterson said. “Part of our strategizing around this will include the nursing commission. They have independent authority over credentialing, but I will bring this up with them. That’s a great point.”
Anyone interested in learning more details about the program can visit the Health Department website’s Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners page, or contact the program coordinator at WAserv@doh.wa.gov or 360-236-4090.