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'This is an absolute crisis': Asante Three Rivers bursting at the seams to meet COVID-19 patient surge

From the outside, local hospitals have looked much the same as usual — the real turmoil has been on the inside, where the critical care units are well over capacity.

Posted: Aug 17, 2021 6:25 PM
Updated: Aug 17, 2021 6:41 PM

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — With coronavirus hospitalizations only continuing to rise beyond already-critical levels, hospital administrators in southern Oregon are looking at every possible contingency to continue accepting patients and meet the dire need.

From the outside, however, local hospitals have looked much the same as usual — the real turmoil has been on the inside, where the critical care units are well over capacity. Asante Three Rivers Medical Center started breaking the outer illusion last week when it added a tent out in front of the emergency department.

Hospital officials said that the pavilion is open during the peak hours of the day for emergency patients with lower-acuity needs, like sprains and minor stitches, to reserve the indoor area for more critical cases.

According to senior administrators at the hospital, the tent is just the tip of the iceberg.

Asante Three Rivers is licensed for 125 beds. When hospitalizations started reaching that limit, Asante lobbied the Oregon Health Authority to issue emergency licensing, expanding that capacity to 177 beds.

The hospital's traditional 12-bed critical care unit is now a 20-bed unit dedicated to COVID-19 patients. Another area has been converted into a separate 12-bed critical care unit for other patients. There are also 10 patients in a "non-traditional" inpatient area, and more areas of the hospital are being retrofitted to meet the surge.

Though they've been able to meet the need for beds thus far, staffing levels continue to be another barrier that cannot be remedied by similar ad hoc means. Some physicians are being pulled from their normal duties to perform care outside of their field of specialty, and administrators are trying to pull in as many traveling physicians or "locums" as they can get.

"This is a full-blown healthcare crisis," said Win Howard, CEO and senior vice-president at Asante Three Rivers. "I've been in a healthcare leadership role for 25 years — I have never experienced anything like this before. This is, I want to be clear, this is an absolute crisis."

Howard confirmed that Three Rivers has been canceling elective surgeries for a matter of weeks, amounting to hundreds of procedures, so that the hospital can meet the needs of patients in a medical emergency. However, just because these surgeries are elective does not mean that they are cosmetic — canceled procedures include hernia repairs, orthopedic surgeries, carotid surgeries, and surgeries to remove cancer.

"The list goes on and on, and these aren't things that would traditionally be thought of as elective in all cases," Howard said. "I talked to one of the surgeons, they had to call several patients and say 'I have to delay your cancer surgery because we have such a surge of patient volume, and I can't even tell you when I can reschedule that.' It broke her heart, and she also thought how difficult it would be for that patient to get that call."

Howard said that Asante is also on the verge of needing to obtain refrigeration units to serve as mobile morgues, potentially within a matter of days.

As bad as things are for Asante right now, Howard said that things are likely to get worse. Coronavirus modeling produced by OHSU, which has so far tracked the progression with relative accuracy, does not anticipate that cases and hospitalizations will peak until the beginning of September.

On Tuesday morning, Howard joined five other health professionals in a briefing on the current COVID-19 outlook for the Josephine County Board of Commissioners. Howard said that they asked the Commissioners to support masking, support social distancing, and encourage constituents to talk to their medical providers about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

"That was our ask, and we asked them to be 'a voice of one' around that," Howard said. "That was the purpose of meeting with them, and for them to understand the seriousness of where we are as a community at this point. So, I think it was clear — we got the message across, I think they heard us, and we'll see how they respond."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 345344

Reported Deaths: 4084
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah54651678
Washington37724310
Marion35705439
Clackamas28835298
Lane26661291
Jackson22465297
Deschutes19252122
Umatilla14081139
Linn12200114
Douglas11664238
Josephine9174191
Yamhill8438108
Klamath7549106
Polk707380
Malheur542374
Benton521531
Coos481591
Columbia368143
Jefferson355650
Union309944
Lincoln306033
Wasco275839
Crook263643
Clatsop238027
Baker195628
Tillamook191926
Hood River186036
Morrow180223
Curry177019
Harney106424
Grant96512
Lake86910
Wallowa65712
Gilliam1484
Sherman1453
Wheeler941
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4802761

Reported Deaths: 70456
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles147341026379
Riverside3689534978
San Diego3631694151
San Bernardino3558485562
Orange3224975513
Sacramento1574982273
Santa Clara1443001886
Fresno1437452048
Kern1437161600
Alameda1197741365
San Joaquin1016431696
Ventura1004421162
Contra Costa99102969
Stanislaus849231310
Tulare78753945
San Francisco53974644
San Mateo53781618
Monterey50676582
Solano45734334
Santa Barbara44770518
Merced41680577
Sonoma40638400
Placer38813412
Imperial35591762
Kings32197312
San Luis Obispo29590330
Madera23420281
Butte23298257
Shasta23230334
Santa Cruz20830217
Yolo20092247
Marin17570243
El Dorado16947149
Sutter13762169
Napa12797100
Yuba992780
Tehama9240103
Humboldt9085108
Nevada902590
Mendocino751686
Lassen743743
San Benito735972
Tuolumne671793
Lake6499103
Amador536763
Siskiyou442742
Glenn429930
Calaveras380279
Del Norte355739
Colusa301618
Inyo194239
Mono16285
Plumas15476
Mariposa126215
Trinity85811
Modoc6678
Sierra1710
Unassigned1480
Alpine1020
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