romptly at 4 p.m., eight hospital workers garbed in gowns, masks and face shields file into a room of the third floor of the intensive care unit.
They gather around a COVID-19 patient, comatose and intubated — three on each side with one near the head to keep an eye on the ventilator.
As a nurse at the foot of the bed reads instructions, gloved hands disconnect lines to monitoring equipment and gather the sheets around the patient. The team carefully hoists and flips the patient onto his stomach — in the prone position — to give his battered lungs a better chance at healing.
Jackie Whited, the director of intensive care here at Central Washington Hospital, watches the team through a window in the hallway. This is the first of three patient flips that have become part of the daily rhythm as the hospital struggles to keep alive its sickest COVID patients.
“Because as the sicker they get, the stiffer their lungs get, and it takes more pressure for the ventilator to get the oxygen through,” says Whited.
Like medical centers across rural Washington, the fifth pandemic wave has overwhelmed the hospital in this river town of 36,000.