Oregon hospitals battle surge ‘never seen before,’ health officials say

Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 6:01 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - For weeks, patients have been flooding emergency rooms looking for care. They’re children sick with RSV, people with COVID or the flu.

The Oregon Health Authority is now issuing monthly updates to give people glimpses of the current state of hospitals.

Medical officials said treating children with RSV every year is normal but the combination of RSV, COVID-19 and the flu is creating a surge they’ve never seen before. They said it’s overwhelming hospitals even more than when COVID-19 was in its prime.

“We are experiencing very, very long wait times,” said Ray Moreno, M.D, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. “The hospitals are full - emergency departments are full.”

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As flu season began earlier than normal in conjunction with RSV and COVID-19, hospital beds have run out.

“Many more children are being hospitalized with breathing problems than in past seasons, especially children under 2. Now more adults will be at risk of not getting the hospital care they need,” says Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed, OHA.

Flu hospitalizations have increased since late October, up 30% by Thanksgiving, affecting people 65 and older. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have risen from 235 to 347 in the past month. Officials said it’s expected to peak at 408 by Monday of next week.

As flu cases rise, RSV cases thankfully hit the peak last month and are slowly decreasing, but Dr. Wendy Hassan of Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel said caring for the high numbers is still challenging.

“I’ve been preparing my stuff that we should expect to be operating above capacity for at least the next month or so,” Dr. Hassan said.

All three pediatric healthcare systems have been over capacity for several weeks due to a lack of personnel.

“OHA has helped hospitals bring in additional staff and healthcare providers from out of state,” Sidelinger said. “We expect more than 100 contract nurses and respiratory therapists to be in place in the next week and OHA is pursuing up to $25 million in additional state funding for supplemental staffing contracts.”

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Pediatrics declared a crisis standard of care, which means emergency room care will look different.

“Your child may have to share a room, your child might have to be seen in the hallway,” Dr. Hassan said.

Officials suggest that people who don’t believe they have an emergency reach out to their doctor by virtual care or go to an urgent care center.

And even though there is no mask mandate, officials said they highly recommend wearing them indoors, especially for children. And suggested people stay up to date with vaccines.