EXCLUSIVE: “There is no cavalry to come and save us”: Salem area hospital workers exhausted as Covid patients fill beds
Salem hospital on Friday reported 81 Covid patients in its care, more than at any time during the pandemic. Gov. Kate Brown said she was deploying the National Guard to help state hospitals as many are short of beds.
Sam Bereny, an EMT at Metro West Ambulance, administers a second dose of Moderna vaccine at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Centennial Park in Woodburn, Ore. On Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Amanda Loman / Salem Reporter)
On Friday morning, Salem hospital crossed a dark threshold. Eighty-one people were in hospital beds sick with Covid – the highest total since the pandemic began 18 months ago.
That’s more Covid patients than at any other hospital in the state. Almost all are from Marion and Polk counties, said Cheryl Wolfe, CEO of Salem Health, and 70 were not vaccinated against Covid. Fourteen are so sick that they are in the intensive care unit of the hospital.
“These people are really sick,” Wolfe told Salem Reporter. “They need a pulmonologist, they need cardiac support, they need monitoring.”
As Oregon hospitals send patients to Boise and Reno for lack of beds or boarding in emergency department corridors, Salem hospital resists state’s most severe wave of Covid patients – without diverting people elsewhere or rationing care.
Wolfe said the community of Salem can expect to be able to get hospital care in the event of a car crash or heart attack, even as the Covid numbers continue to rise.
Starting next week, the hospital will likely cancel a few elective surgeries that can be postponed without harming patients, Wolfe said. The installation of tents in the parking lot remains a possibility to treat patients who are not if the beds continue to fill.
“We’re past full,” Wolfe said. The hospital census on Friday morning showed that 477 of the 494 staffed beds were occupied.
Maintaining hospital service takes a heavy toll on healthcare workers who work more overtime to ensure beds can be filled.
“I’m just appealing to the community to understand that your health workers are so exhausted,” Wolfe said.
The number of Covid patients in Salem has risen rapidly. A month ago, only six were in the hospital, Wolfe said. Two weeks ago, it was 22 people. On Wednesday, it had risen to 65.
“I’m really worried,” Wolfe said. “I don’t see this wave stopping.”
She said getting the Covid vaccine is the best way to stay out of hospital.
Around Oregon, hospital and health officials say the situation is dire.
Jackson County asked state officials on Thursday evening for help in establishing a 300-bed field hospital where medical providers in Jackson and Josephine counties can turn away non-critical patients, Jefferson Public Radio reported.
JPR also reported that Curry General Hospital on the south coast of Oregon was sending patients all the way to Reno, Nevada for treatment because there was no room in the ward’s unit. intensive care.
Governor Kate Brown announced Friday that she is deploying up to 1,500 members of the Oregon National Guard to support frontline health workers.
The announcement came following new data on Friday that showed 733 Oregonians hospitalized with Covid, including 185 in intensive care.
“I cannot however stress the severity of this crisis for all Oregonians,” Brown said in a statement. “Especially those who need emergency and intensive care. When our hospitals are full of Covid patients, there may not be room for someone in need of care after a car accident, heart attack, or other emergency. ”
Starting August 20, 500 members of the guard are deployed to state hospitals. Brown’s announcement did not specify where.
“The light that we saw in early summer, it fades quickly and it looks like groundhog day. Now we’re back to where we started all over again, ”said Kevin Mealy, communications director for the Oregon Nurses Association.
Mealy spoke this week with critical care nurses in some of Oregon’s hardest hit areas and said there was a feeling the state is breaking all bad records.
A statewide nursing shortage is exacerbated by burnout and ongoing trauma.
“People receive poorer care from exhausted staff who care for twice as many patients than they would normally consider safe. We see workers leaving the profession because they don’t feel safe, ”he said.
Mealy said the state is coming to a point where in some areas going to the hospital could mean going to a tent at the fairgrounds.
In a joint statement Friday, professional organizations representing more than 4,700 Oregon doctors and health workers expressed support for Brown’s renewed statewide mask mandate and urged her to put more quickly implement a rule requiring vaccination or regular Covid testing for health workers. This rule is expected to come into effect on September 30.
“Given the circumstances, the urgency of protecting the health of frontline healthcare workers and reducing the spread of healthcare workers to others is greater than ever,” the Oregon statement said. Chapter American College of Physicians, Oregon Chapter American College. of Emergency Physicians, Oregon Pediatric Society and Oregon Academy Of Family Physicians. “Delaying action until the end of September puts frontline healthcare workers at risk and compromises the ability of our healthcare infrastructure to meet the demands of handling the rising tide of COVID-19 patients in Oregon. “
The Oregon Health Authority has set up a command center for hospitals to work together to ensure respiratory equipment can be repositioned across the state as needed, OHA spokesperson Tim Heider said. .
Heider also said the OHA is working in partnership with the Oregon Department of Social Services and long-term care facilities to move people who can be placed in community care facilities to free up hospital beds.
In addition, a team of emergency nurses is being mobilized to help the most stressed hospitals and the OHA is working with hospitals to expand the patient care workforce to operate more hospital beds. Heider did not specify where the nurses would come from given the statewide shortage.
Stephen Bomar, spokesperson for the Oregon Military Department, said there had been no discussion of turning the Oregon State Fairgrounds into an overflow hospital to handle a wave of Covid patients, similar to which was put in place last March but has not been used.
Marion County Fire District No. 1 battalion chief Mark Bjorklund said emergency services have always been able to get people to the Salem emergency room.
“Transport is on the rise, we are seeing a lot of Covid patients. It hasn’t impacted the emergency numbers that we can’t take them there, ”he said.
Ben Stange, chief of Polk County No.1 Fire District, said the only impact on their service has sometimes been longer wait times in the emergency room to transfer a patient to hospital care.
“We can’t leave a patient until they have a bed available in the emergency room, so every now and then we find ourselves with ambulances sort of crammed with patients on stretchers trying to find an available bed.” , did he declare. “It’s putting an ambulance out of service.”
It’s not just Covid patients occupying hospitals. Other factors related to the pandemic have exacerbated the bed shortage, said Wolfe and Dr Steve Vets, chief medical officer at Santiam Hospital.
Many hospital beds are filled with patients who delayed care for serious chronic health conditions like diabetes earlier in the pandemic. As a result, they are now sicker and stay longer in the hospital.
It also takes longer to discharge patients from hospital due to the lack of staff in skilled nursing facilities. This means that fewer beds are open to accommodate people who may need stroke rehabilitation, but who do not need hospital care.
Wolfe said Salem hospital had 43 such patients as of Friday morning.
Other Marion County hospitals have few Covid patients. Legacy Silverton only had three on Friday, spokesman Brian Terrett said, and 24 total beds occupied out of 47 that are staffed.
He said Covid patients who need intensive care are admitted to Legacy Hospital in Tualatin.
Santiam Hospital manages so far, vets said, although the hospital set a record in June for the total number of patients who came to the emergency room, and broke that record again in July.
“We’re kind of blessed to have dodged bullets over and over again, but sooner or later our numbers will increase,” the vets said.
Despite being licensed for 40 beds, vets said it usually only had enough staff to staff about 20.
“It’s really day to day and sometimes by shift because the main issue is personnel,” he said.
The hospital has once or twice in recent weeks sought care as far as Coos Bay for patients they had no room for, but vets said they were generally able to take care of people. .
But after several outbreaks of Covid patients over the past 18 months, vets said he and hospital staff were running out of steam.
“It’s super tiring. In the first push… all you had to do was hold on until the vaccines got here. And now, there is no predictable end. There is no cavalry to come and save us. This is what we are going to face for the foreseeable future, ”he said.
Caitlyn May contributed reporting.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241. Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]
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