ER docs to Oregonians: Labor Day could strain at-capacity hospitals

ER docs to Oregonians: Labor Day could strain at-capacity hospitals

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Emergency room doctors in Oregon have reached out to residents with an urgent plea: Get vaccinated against COVID-19, use masks and employ social distancing.

“Oregon is at a crisis point unlike any we’ve seen through the pandemic,” according to a press release from the Oregon chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, just days before the Labor Day weekend and the potential for more super-spreader events. “Our emergency departments are overflowing.”

On Thursday, Aug. 27, Oregon set a grim new record with 3,207 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases and 20 new deaths. That eclipsed the record of 2,971 new cases set Aug. 19, as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to sweep the state. As of Thursday, COVID-19 had claimed the lives of 3,115 Oregonians.

“The tragic truth is that (emergency departments) are overflowing with patients whose suffering could have been avoided,” the press release reads. “Oregonians who did not get vaccinated when they could have done so.”

The Portland Tribune is a news partner with KOIN 6 News

According to the release, regional hospitals are sending intensive care unit patients to San Francisco and Utah because 94% of Oregon ICU-staffed beds are full. Elective surgeries are on hold.

As reported by the Pamplin Media Group, Aug. 25, COVID-19 is now killing Oregonians who haven’t even contracted the disease, because hospitals filled to, or exceeding, capacity can’t take in other patients. The CEO of Columbia-Memorial Hospital in Astoria said several have patient died in his 25-bed facility because they could not be transferred to larger, more specialized hospitals for more complex care. On Aug. 19, Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg reported that a patient died in the emergency room because its intensive-care unit was full. St. Charles Hospital in Madras is so overrun with patients that the Oregon National Guard has been called in to assist hospital staff; Madras is at capacity has had begun sending patients to St. Charles Bend, in Bend, Oregon, which reported last week that it had 66 COVID patients hospitalized; 15 of whom were in the intensive care unit; 14 of those are on ventilators; and that each of those statistics set new records for that hospital, since the pandemic began.

“We are tired and heartbroken that 17 months into the pandemic we are facing what feels like a largely preventable surge in patients,” according to the release from the emergency room physicians. “We’ve seen time and time again how get-togethers among family and friends during holiday weekends have led to surges in infections with this virus.”

The release urges Oregonians to avoid large gatherings that are set indoors; to wear masks; and to get vaccinated.

It also warns that, for those who do end up in emergency rooms for whatever reason, to expect long delays in care. “The staff at the Oregon hospitals have been stretched to a breaking point and are spending Labor Day weekend away from their loved ones to serve their community.”

Read: The full open letter from the Oregon chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians to residents of Oregon:

Dear Fellow Oregonians,

Oregon is at a crisis point unlike any we’ve seen throughout the pandemic. Our emergency departments are overflowing. The tragic truth is that they are overflowing with patients whose suffering could have been avoided; Oregonians who did not get vaccinated when they could have done so.

Regional hospitals are sending ICU patients to San Francisco and Utah because 94% of our ICU staffed beds are full. Elective surgeries are on hold. Even people with seemingly unrelated emergencies like trauma, heart attacks and strokes are at greater risk of dying since hospitals are nearly full and resources are stretched so thin. These stories are playing out all over the state as we experience an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases.

We are tired and heartbroken that 17 months into the pandemic we are facing what feels like a largely preventable surge in patients. We’ve seen time and time again how get-togethers among family and friends during holiday weekends have led to surges in infections with this virus.

As we head into this Labor Day, we are asking for your help. Please, make smart choices so you don’t end up needing a hospital bed when there might not be one for you. This Labor Day, please:

• Stay small and outside: The delta variant is so contagious that it can affect everyone at a block party, a wedding, a funeral. Avoid large gatherings. We know family celebrations and events have been long deferred but urgent sacrifices are needed to protect our loved ones. If you do get together with others, do it in a small group outdoors. Your risk of getting infected is lower outside.

• Stay safe by covering your face: Wear a mask or face covering at any gathering. It will protect you and the people around you.

• Be smart: Have fun but avoid risky activities, excessive alcohol or substance use that increase your risk of trauma and the need to access already strained emergency services

• Understand the situation: If you do have to access emergency services, expect that there may be long delays if your concern is not immediately life threatening. The staff at the Oregon hospitals have been stretched to a breaking point and are spending Labor Day weekend away from their loved ones to serve their community. They greatly appreciate your kindness and respect for their dedication to serve.

• Get vaccinated: Vaccines are widely available, free to all and most importantly, they are safe and effective. They are the best tool we have to protect the public, including the health care workforce.

Emergency departments (or ERs) are places for emergencies. If you are experiencing symptoms you feel might require urgent medical attention such as chest pain, shortness of breath, stroke symptoms, etc., you should absolutely go to the ER. But for COVID complications, the best way to stay out of the ER is to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Health departments, hospitals and health care providers are working at a furious pace on the pandemic response but we desperately need your help. On behalf of all members of OR-ACEP, and our health care colleagues on the front lines, we have one unified plea to our fellow Oregonians: GET VACCINATED


What one ER doc told KOIN 6 News
By Lindsay Nadrich, KOIN 6 News staff

Emergency physician Dr. Alex Skog said health care workers have seen so much pain and suffering that’s now largely preventable by getting vaccinated.

A row of beds in a hospital (KOIN, file)

“I can unequivocally say that you as a potential patient in the emergency department have higher risk of bad outcomes because of the current stress that’s on our system that’s predominantly due to coronavirus,” said Skog, who is with Providence Willamette Falls in Oregon City, Portland VA in Emergency Department and the Oregon Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“A lot of people discuss with me concerns that they have about the side effects of vaccination and I think that one of the best things I can tell them is right now my emergency department is full of people unfortunately with coronavirus who didn’t get vaccinated,” he said. “It’s not full of people with side effects from vaccinations for coronavirus.”

Health care workers worry what may happen over the Labor Day weekend. COVID cases have surged after every holiday. But this time, ER doctors say there may not be a hospital bed available if you need one.

“We as a system are already at a breaking point,” Dr. Skog said. “If we add the increased transmission, increased risk of another holiday to this, it really may be dangerous for a lot of Oregonians.”

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