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Coronavirus Watch: Asante’s Critical Care and Emergency Departments are under siege

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On Thursday, 14 patients filled the Critical Care Unit at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. Each was suffering from COVID-19. Each needed a machine to breathe.

None has been vaccinated.

Few will leave the unit alive.

“I think the hardest thing is having a patient that is alert and oriented, and he knows he is not going to make it,” said Sadie Emond, a nurse in the CCU.

The surge of patients suffering from COVID-19 has caused Asante to double the number of beds in some rooms in the CCU, according to Laura Magstadt, RN, vice-president of nursing at the facility.

“Right now we are doubling up on patients in ICU rooms. I've been here for a long time and never seen anything like it, Emond said.

The CCU is not the only department feeling the impact of the surge of COVID-19.

Recently, a tent was set up outside the Emergency Department at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center. The tent is used to care for people with low acuity health concerns, such as minor lacerations or sprains, when traffic to the emergency department is heavy.

The surge in COVID-19 patients has caused Asante’s Emergency Department to use other departments in the ED’s vicinity during periods when the patient intake is high.

“We’re a bit overrun with our numbers. I’ve been here for 12 years and it’s never been as busy as it has been the past couple of months. We hit the ground running for twelve and a half hours,” said Debra Henslee, an RN in the Emergency Department.

The influx of patients has caused the ED to store extra gurneys in hallways to help handle patient overload. On Thursday morning, those gurneys were empty, but they aren’t always.

“The hardest part lately has been trying to explain to people why they are waiting so long. It’s frustrating to have patients in the back, that are admitted patients in quite uncomfortable emergency room gurneys, to explain to them while they’re waiting for 24, up to 48 hours in an ER setting on a very uncomfortable gurney,” Henslee said.

Henslee and Emond have each been nurses for more than 10 years, and love their profession, even if it’s more difficult now than they’ve ever experienced.

“It’s hard to deal with the volume that we’ve been seeing and just feeling like we can’t do the level of care that we want to do seeing this many patients, and having this long of a wait has been really frustrating,” Henslee said.

“To walk in, it's our version of our own war room and war zone,” Emond said, adding, “I could not imagine doing this anywhere else. The team, the support, this is what's getting us through.”