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Travel nurses are coming to Seattle in the hundreds to help with coronavirus outbreak

caption: The EvergreenHealth Medical Center is shown on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Kirkland.
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The EvergreenHealth Medical Center is shown on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Kirkland.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

As the spread of coronavirus continues, with cases confirmed in seven counties in Washington state as of Monday, healthcare facilities are bracing for what this could mean for hospitals — crowded emergency rooms and a higher demand for nurses.

On top of this, medical providers have to maintain the 1:1 ratio the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for intensive care patients with coronavirus. Already, the call has been put out for hundreds of nurses, respiratory therapists, and medical staff to step in.

NuWest Group is working with the CDC, Washington and King County health departments, local hospitals and clinics, to deploy the needed staff to meet patient demands at King County hospitals.

“We’re asking ALL ready and willing healthcare professionals to rise to the call for single-shift, short- and long-term assignments at crisis rates to help us address this outbreak in Washington,” an online ad broadcasted on Facebook.

Initially, when the outbreak occurred, NuWest was tapped to backfill medical staff for the Life Care Center in Kirkland, the epicenter of the state's outbreak. Nurses there were brought in to maintain care, as others who were exposed to coronavirus had to be quarantined, said Mona Veiseh, president of NuWest Healthcare.

Now, Veiseh said, this situation is moving into a new phase: Many hospitals are anticipating what may come.

“The virus is going to spread and more folks are going to be hospitalized than previously,” she said. “The healthcare system and community are bulking up and getting ready for what might come their way in the coming weeks.”

Swedish Medical Center and EvergreenHealth community hospital are two, among many others, bringing in the extra help.

“With the increase of potential COVID-19 cases, Swedish has taken the precautionary step to contract with outside agencies to provide extra coverage for our caregivers and patients,” wrote Tiffany Moss, an official with Swedish Medical Center.

Julia Irwin, spokesperson for EvergreenHealth wrote that the hospital is actively "including additional staff to support and adapt to the evolving circumstances" while also maintaining existing staffing models.

Since last Friday, there has been more than 200 inquiries from people willing to travel to Washington from around the country, Veiseh said. She's noticed little hesitation from non-locals to intervene, despite the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Seattle & King County Public Health reported 33 new cases on Monday, raising the King County total to 116. There have been at least 20 deaths statewide attributed to the virus that's know for causing shortness of breath and fever. Around the U.S., more than 500 people have contracted coronavirus.

One emergency department nurse Veiseh spoke with late last week told her to place them "where ever they’re needed." And that’s the sentiment Veiseh has prominently heard from nurses volunteering to hold the line against coronavirus.

Danny Durazo, a radiologic technologist in California, has decided to travel north to Washington state and help. He said at the moment nurses are needed most. When those in his position are needed, he'll be on the next flight out.

"I feel like it’s the duty of any free and available medical worker to answer the call of the nation in a crisis," Durazo said. "There is a division of people who choose healthcare as a career and majority of us do it for patients and community."

But many travelers still want clarity on what state and federal agencies would do for health workers if they become infected with COVID-19, Durazo said.

Interested traveling nurses must be licensed in Washington state, or able to get a license within a week. Veiseh said the process is being expedited and in the meantime, temporary licenses are being issued.

“It’s really difficult to say what’s going to happen tomorrow and … we’re asking the [healthcare] community to keep going,” Veiseh said.

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