A car collided with a tree in front of the medical center, due to the poor road conditions. Photo courtesy of Overlake Medical Center.

A car collided with a tree in front of the medical center, due to the poor road conditions. Photo courtesy of Overlake Medical Center.

Overlake Medical essential staff housed in hotels

Over 250 rooms helped ensure needed employees made it to their shift.

Snowfall led to crashes and dangerous streets for the past two weeks. Police departments across the Eastside urged commuters to stay home if they’re able.

But there’s a number of employees that can’t call in — like those who provide medical treatment at the region’s health facilities.

Since Feb. 8, Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue has booked and paid for more than 250 hotel rooms in the Bellevue area for essential medical providers. Overlake doctors, nurses, technicians, medical assistants and others have slept in those rooms free of charge.

“We’re needing every one of these people who are working,” said Hilary Benson, media and public relations specialist with Overlake.

Hotel rooms paid for by the center have ranged in price. Some have cost as much as $300 and $400 a night per person. But the cost isn’t important, given the safety of the employees, hospital administrators said.

Many of the employees live in the outlying areas, with a higher elevation and typically more snowfall. They live as far south (or even farther) as south Maple Valley, and others are housed up north in Bothell, Benson said.

“For all the people that have even moderate commutes, it’s really tough in this kind of weather,” Benson said.

According to Lisa Morton, director of human resources, nothing to this extent has been done before. “This is far more and way bigger,” she said. During previous storms, 20 to 30 rooms were booked, “never more than 100,” she added.

As snow predictions were cemented last week, the human resources department began to call around, booking as many rooms as possible.

“We’re hitting up all the local hotels,” Benson said.

Winter in general is a busy time for the hospital, said Tom DeBord, Overlake chief operating officer. Patients are typically seen for the flu and colds. The shifting temperature can cause issues among those with breathing problems.

“On top of it, because of the snow people are falling and slipping on ice, trying to get the their cars to get to work or the grocery store,” DeBord said. “We’re treating an increased number of folks in the emergency room and urgent care facilities because of snow-related issues.”

Some of the necessary staff also is sleeping at the hospital, in one of the patient units not needed for patient care, DeBord added. Another commuter option offered is coordinated transportation through use of Uber or Lyft, relieving the anxiety of some commuters who might be afraid to drive in the unprecidented snowy conditions.

Above all else, DeBord said he’s proud of the employees’ commitment, as well as the collaboration effort, in keeping the 24/7 facility open.

“Many of these employees are staying in hotel rooms away from their family to ensure they get to their next shift,” he said. “It’s very appreciated and pretty heartwarming to do this for their patients.”

At the Swedish Medical Center Issaquah campus, anywhere from 25 to 40 staff members spent the night in the hospital, given that Issaquah-campus employees live around the county, said Robin Fox, safety officer for Swedish.

“For us it’s about keeping not only our paitents and visitors but also our caregivers safe here,” he said.

EvergreenHealth in Kirkland has taken proactive steps to help staff and visitors remain safe, said an official with the hospital.

Onsite sleeping accommodations, including linens and food vouchers, were made available to staff members and providers before and after shifts. More than 80 of the facility employees chose to stay the night or day onsite.

Evergreen’s multi-channel communication system Treehouse was used for coordinated rides and carpooling.

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