Photo Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
A map of heat across the Northwest on June 28, the hottest day in Seattle history.

Photo Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration A map of heat across the Northwest on June 28, the hottest day in Seattle history.

June heatwave, COVID overwhelm regional hospitals

While Lucy Goodson, a third-year resident at the University of Washington Department of Emergency Medicine, was working during the region’s historic heatwave in June, the hospital’s patients were sitting in the hallways, trying to find a place to stay cool.

At the time, the influx of patients left the hospital without an empty bed or available nurse. Although some of these patients had already been treated for heat-related illnesses, they could not be sent home, because they had nowhere safe to go.

“Even if we got [patients] cool we couldn’t send them home. What were you going to do to send someone back to a house that’s 110 degrees?” She said. “There was a limit, and unfortunately, we were at it.”

Months after a historic heatwave rocked the pacific northwest, doctors and health officials are still reflecting on how the deadliest weather event in state history overran the Seattle area medical system. Top health officials and climate scientists gathered, Aug. 26, to discuss the impact of the three-day weather event.

The heatwave, lasting from June 26-28, brought some of the hottest temperatures the state has ever experienced. During the stretch, Seattle recorded its first, second and fourth hottest day in history. Nationwide, it was the hottest June in recorded history.

“That heatwave was virtually impossible without climate change,” said Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment.

The heatwave was responsible for 1,350 deaths, including 500 in Washington. Health officials expect that number to rise as counting continues.

Ebi said 35% or more of worldwide heat-related deaths can be attributed to human-caused climate change. Climate change is also responsible for an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme heat.

Cameron Buck, the director of the Valley Medical Center in Renton, said over the three days his hospital saw a 13% to 15% increase in patient volume.

During an eight-hour peak period, Buck said the hospital was seeing a new heat-related patient every nine minutes. This came at a time when the hospital’s 30 ICU beds were already operating between 90 to 95% of capacity.

“While we thought we were somewhat prepared, that eight-hour period of time completely overwhelmed the community hospital,” Buck said.

Jeremy Hess, a professor and director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington, said the availability of hospital beds has been something the state medical system has been dealing with for a long time. He said although the region has grown rapidly, the medical system has not kept pace.

He said if there is a 20% increase in patients over an 18-month span in Washington the hospital system will be taxed. If that 20% occurs over six months, the system will run out of beds.

“We don’t have any slack in the system, and that was going into the event,” he said. “COVID made it that much worse.”

Although COVID-19 hospitalization rates were low in June compared to today’s numbers, county hospitals were still burdened by the pandemic.

“Fortunately [the heatwave] was near one of our nadir’s for COVID illness in our hospital,” said Steven Mitchell, medical director at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “I just shudder to think what it would be like today.”

During the event, Mitchel said all regional hospitals were in bad shape, while some were in severe shape. He said the Valley Medical Center was down to one ventilator, while other hospitals were running on generators, at risk of losing power and facing evacuation.

“We have a completely new frame of reference,” Mitchell said. “It has taught us some invaluable but painful lessons.”


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Tsr
Renton spa manager accused of trying to coerce woman into prostitution, posing nude

Quyen T. Nguyen, 39, has been accused of attempted promotion of prostitution… Continue reading

Teaser
King County experts discuss extreme heat mitigation plan

The plan includes improving infrastructure and communications to prevent future disasters.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterburg (File Photo)
King County Prosecuting Attorney vows to protect reproductive freedom

Dan Satterberg joins over 80 prosecutors from around the country in their pledge.

Teaser
King County approves emergency grant after U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Washington is expecting an influx of people seeking abortions from out of state.

Fedor Osipov, 15, flips into Steel Lake in Federal Way during last year's heatwave on June 28, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Heatwave expected to hit King County

Temperatures will likely reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, June 26, and Monday, June 27.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII: Examining Auburn police officer’s grim tattoos

Episode 5 in special podcast series that explores Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

t
Des Moines Police arrest murder suspect in Kent | Update

Medical examiner identifies body found June 20 in Duwamish River

Photo courtesy of King County.
Officials urge caution when swimming this summer

Cold spring temperatures and larger than normal snowpack have created dangerous conditions

File photo
Fireworks ban takes effect this year in unincorporated King County

The new law does not extend to cities, which each have their own regulations around fireworks.

Most Read