MEDFORD, Ore. — Representatives from Asante, Providence, and Jackson and Josephine County Public Health held a press conference on Thursday to outline the dire COVID-19 situation in southwest Oregon.
"We have surpassed anything we've seen before, in terms of this disease," said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County health officer.
Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center
Jackson County reported a dizzying 416 new cases on Thursday, another new record for daily cases after hitting 267 earlier this week. Across Jackson and Josephine counties, 150 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those patients, 41 were in an intensive care unit (ICU) and 13 were on a ventilator. There were only four ICU beds available across the region as of Thursday morning.
Dr. Shames underlined that both cases and hospitalizations continue to break records, and the only way forward is for the local community to come together and help bend the curve by getting vaccinated and masking in public spaces. Only 5 percent of current hospitalizations are vaccinated, Shames said.
Michael Weber, director of Josephine County Public Health, said that the counties are lobbying the state for some form of pressure relief with hospitals full.
"This is the worst condition our hospitals have seen, likely ever," Weber said.
Hospitalizations are also hitting younger groups than seen earlier in the pandemic, which Dr. Shames attributed to the high vaccination rate among seniors. About 7 percent of hospitalizations are among people 70 or older.
For Asante and Providence, the sustained rise in hospitalizations means that their hospitals are essentially operating at maximum capacity. In some cases, healthcare workers are working around beds and medical equipment set up in hallways, some of them pulling 20-hour shifts to helps serve the needs of patients.
"We're out of beds, our staff are stretched, and we're running out of resources," said Amanda Kotler, Vice President of Nursing at Asante in Ashland.
Kotler said that Asante has had to cancel more than 350 surgeries to make room for the surge in COVID-19 patients, denying more than 200 patient referrals, and daily have between 10 and 40 patients waiting for available Emergency Room beds. Kotler also clarified that the kind of "elective" surgeries being canceled are not merely cosmetic — many of them are vital, life-altering procedures.
While the state's metrics on hospital capacity for the region show some available beds, Kotler indicated that looks are deceiving. Asante Ashland's critical care beds have been full, and other beds freed up to serve as contingency critical care are filled up as quickly as they're made available.
"We are beyond full," Kotler said.
At Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, staff have erected a tent outside of the emergency department entrance. Officials said that that the tent is available during the day for emergency patients with lower-acuity needs, like sprains and minor stitches, to reserve the indoor area for more critical cases.
Dr. Jamie Grebosky, Asante's chief medical officer, said that 28 percent of Oregon's COVID-19 patients within the last 30 days have been at Asante facilities in southern Oregon. 35 percent of those patients have needed critical care.
Though Providence has a statewide system of hospitals, officials said that they are seeing the same challenges as those seen at Asante in southern Oregon. Staff have been working through a pandemic for 18 months, and there are not enough beds or staff to serve this number of patients at this level of care.
"It's cause for great concern with an already overburdened situation in our community," said Providence Medford Medical Center chief executive officer Chris Pizzi, commenting on the upward trajectory of cases in Jackson County. "I'm fearful that the darkest days of this pandemic may be ahead of us."
Jackson County has made a request to the state for the establishment of a field hospital to handle hospital overflow in the region, in addition to requests for more ventilators and solutions to the crisis in staffing.
Statewide, hospitalizations for COVID-19 reached 670 as of Thursday. Of those patients, 177 were in an ICU. Both numbers continue to rise on a daily basis.
“Our hospitals are full. Patients are boarding and being cared for in emergency departments when they should be admitted to hospital beds. Our ICUs are full," said Dr. David Zonies, associate chief medical officer and professor of surgery at OHSU. "Our doctors and nurses are exhausted and rightfully frustrated because this crisis is avoidable. It is like watching a train wreck coming and knowing that there’s an opportunity to switch tracks, yet we feel helpless while we watch unnecessary loss of life. That is why it is essential that we all do our part to get vaccinated and wear a mask indoors.”