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Washington Medical Coordination Center Collaborates with Key Health Care Response Partners to Mitigate Hospital Surge and Ensure Continuity of Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Washington state
March 2020

Impact

The early partnership between the Northwest Healthcare Response Network (NWHRN) and Harborview Medical Center was instrumental for creating the vision for the Washington Medical Coordination Center (WMCC)​ and establishing its operational framework. Coupled with Harborview’s clinical and operational expertise, NWHRN leveraged its health care delivery and disaster response proficiency as well as its long-standing relationships in the community to serve a critical role in articulating the value of the WMCC. This achieved early buy-in among clinical and executive leadership of hospital systems that normally do not collaborate. Through this strong foundation built early in the pandemic and expanded collaboration with additional partners across the state, the WMCC has been able to offer vital support beyond its initial operations in western Washington and has become a key tenant in Washington state’s pandemic response by providing relief to health care facilities statewide. As of early January 2022, the WMCC has received over 3,800 hospital requests for assistance and has completed over nearly 2,000 load balancing patient placements. ​


“The ongoing HPP investments throughout the COVID-19 response have helped support this continued work and have been vital to WMCC efforts.”

-Onora Lien
Executive Director of the Northwest Healthcare Response Network,


The WMCC model has also begun to benefit states within Region 10. WMCC is collaborating with Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska to establish load balancing systems that can facilitate bi-directional information sharing and improve visibility into hospital capacity throughout the region. As a result, the WMCC has been able to expand response communication across the state and influence future preparedness efforts across the region.

Background

From late February to early March 2020, Washington experienced its first COVID-19 outbreak at Life Care Center of Kirkland, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility outside of Seattle. As the number of cases rose, it became clear that an outbreak at a single nursing home can easily overwhelm the health care system. To prepare for a surge in cases throughout the region, the Disaster Medical Coordination Center (DMCC) at Harborview Medical Center/University of Washington and NWHRN, the regional health care coalition, identified the need to pivot their response strategy and establish a central entity that load balances patient movement to ensure maximum health care system efficiency and coordination in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Response

Harborview Medical Center and NWHRN, which receives funding through ASPR’s Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) cooperative agreement, partnered to coordinate with hospitals across the region and establish the Regional COVID-19 Coordination Center (RC3). The structure of the RC3 consisted of four major pillars that aimed to support COVID-19 patient triage, situational awareness, decision-making, and bed placement across western Washington using a Medical Operations Coordination Center framework.

By fall of 2020, the RC3 evolved into WMCC, which expanded its capabilities to serve health care facilities across Washington state. The WMCC is supported by both HPP cooperative agreement funding and COVID-19 supplemental funding.  The center has expanded RC3’s mission of preventing strain on hospitals by load balancing acutely ill patients across the state. This includes patients with COVID-19 as well as other acute illnesses and involves hospitals impacted by pandemic-related surges and staffing challenges. Hospitals that have failed to successfully transfer patients using standard referral resources utilize the WMCC to access care across the state.

In turn, the WMCC utilizes statewide operational agreements and bed surveillance of the health system to ensure access to care regardless of which hospital a patient may originate from. Over 75 percent of requests have originated from rural and critical access hospitals unable to access care at larger hospitals in more urban locations. The WMCC also works to stabilize over-capacity tertiary hospitals by transferring patients to hospitals with existing capacity for continued care. 

With support from the NWHRN, Harborview Medical Center leads WMCC operations by providing, or ensuring provision of, regular and timely situational awareness updates as well as data and clinical expertise to facilitate patient placement. In addition to its partnership with NWHRN, the WMCC collaborates with the Regional Emergency and Disaster (REDi) Health Care Coalition in Washington, the Washington State Hospital Association, and the Washington State Department of Health. Throughout the pandemic, these partners have worked together to support continued health care operations, assess regional patient coordination challenges and solutions, coordinate patient placement needs, and align resource sharing and mutual aid, especially during times of surge.

More Information: To learn more about the WMCC, visit the NWHRN’s WMCC webpage or review this summary of ​the WMCC.

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