Far from being overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Washington Hospital has been significantly less busy in recent weeks.
On March 17, the Wenatchee hospital suspended elective surgeries and routine care visits in preparation for a potential influx of patients with the virus, as has been seen at hospitals elsewhere.
Confluence CEO Dr. Peter Rutherford said models in other cities had shown coronavirus patient numbers at hospitals doubling every six to seven days. In New York, numbers have been doubling every two days.
But that sort of influx hasn’t yet happened in Wenatchee.
Hospital staff is currently treating nine COVID-19-positive patients and two others who are pending results. All 11 of those people are in the intensive care unit, with nine on ventilators, said Andrew Canning, marketing and communications manager for Confluence Health.
Some COVID-19 patients have been sent to Wenatchee from Grant County but the majority at the hospital now are from Chelan and Douglas counties.
In the rest of the hospital, the number of people in beds typically is 140 but for the past four weeks the hospital occupancy numbers have been in the low 80s, he said.
Emergency visits have fallen off significantly
Suspending elective surgeries did not include changes in emergency treatment, such as broken bones and emergency appendectomies.
But fewer patients are showing up at the emergency department and Confluence walk-in clinics, as well.
Canning said the emergency department normally sees about 100 patients a day but that number has been cut in half.
Rutherford said the reasons for the dramatic drop in emergency room visits are hard to pinpoint but there seem to be fewer vehicle crashes, for one.
The visits to walk-in clinics are down even more, with a 60 percent drop-off, Canning said.
On March 23, Confluence began offering virtual doctor visits, reducing significantly the traffic at its clinics but that does not explain the drop in emergency and walk-in clinic patients.
Latest drive-through testing has found 13 positive cases
As more COVID-19 testing kits have become available in the Wenatchee Valley there are far more people being tested than during the early days of the outbreak. But the number of positive cases hasn’t spiked significantly.
Confluence reopened drive-through testing near its Fifth Street and Chelan Avenue clinic April 5 and had tested 251 people, as of noon Thursday. Of those, 13 have tested positive for COVID-19.
With shuttles taking samples twice a day to the University of Washington for testing, the results are sometimes back as quickly as 24 hours.
As of Wednesday night, there were 43 people with the coronavirus in Chelan County and 11 in Douglas County.
Rutherford said it is far too soon to believe there will not be a significant outbreak here, though. And people should continue to follow the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.
And when they are out for trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, they should take extra care with social distancing.
“Think about the community good and not just your inconvenience and boredom,” he said.
Confluence has seen revenue plummet
The hospital has suffered a big financial hit as it treats fewer people.
Rutherford said the exact toll is still being analyzed but Confluence has been meeting with financial advisers to get a handle on the losses and potential remedies.
In addition to less revenue from patient treatment, the hospital has also spent significant money on the outbreak, paying $550,000 for more hospital beds it has not yet needed, as one example.
There is likely to be federal and state money available soon to help with losses many hospitals are experiencing, but how much and when it will arrive is still very much in question.