Hospitals prepare for potential surge

Dr. Lesley Ogden

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LINCOLN COUNTY — With positive coronavirus cases increasing in Oregon, Lincoln County’s hospitals are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Dr. Lesley Ogden, chief executive officer at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital (SNLH) and Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital (SPCH), said they don’t know exactly what conditions would exceed the hospitals’ capacities, and she’s hoping they won’t have to find out.

“If everybody heeds the governor’s order to stay home, if people actually do that and really make an effort to limit their contacts and therefore limit the spread of this virus, we could see a big change in the level of infections. What we’re seeing each day is that those infections are increasing statewide. So if we can get on top of this and have those numbers go in the opposite direction, we actually may not see any type of surge. That is still a possibility, I believe,” Ogden said.

“However, if things go how they have gone, for example, all the people pouring into the coast for spring break and not heeding any of the warnings and forcing our towns to essentially close down, if we continue to see people who don’t take this seriously and continue to spread this disease, we could see a significant surge. We just don’t know what that’s going to be.

“Our job is to prepare for whatever may come, and we have surge plans in place, but we’re also not infallible, we’re also not limitless, and it is so important that people take this seriously, so we don’t have to test what our limits are. Honestly, it really depends on what’s thrown our way.”

She said the hospital’s capacity to handle a surge in coronavirus cases would hinge on the severity of infections and symptoms present, the number of staff who might themselves be infected, the equipment available at the time and a number of other factors.

“I can’t tell you, at this point, ‘this many people is our limit,’ and I’d rather not go there. I’d rather everyone heed what is being said, understand that this is the one chance we have to affect whether this pandemic goes crazy here, or if we get on top of it.”

Severe COVID-19 infections can require admittance to an intensive-care unit (ICU) and the use of a ventilator to keep the patient alive, and a shortage of both has been reported nationally. There are four ICU beds in SNLH, and SPCH has five, as well as a med-surge room that can easily be converted into a sixth. Ogden said the hospitals were ready to adapt their spaces to accommodate the level of care needed.

“Those are designated rooms, and our designations, with the state of emergency, are sort of out the door. Our rooms, even our typical rooms, are close to the size of what most people would picture an ICU room being, so really any of our rooms could act as an ICU room, and we now have the capability to really execute on that,” she said.

The overall combined capacity of the two hospitals is typically 41, but the state of emergency allows them to expand as needed. Staff have identified 150-plus patient care areas at SPCH and 60-plus at SNLH that can be used in the event of a surge.

Ogden said there were 11 ventilators in the Lincoln City facility and 15 at Newport, and the hospital is looking to obtain more.

Another concern, nationally as well as locally, has been the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gowns, gloves and other gear that health care providers use to protect themselves from infection and avoid transmitting the virus from patients to healthy people.

Ogden said the hospitals recently saw a troubling depletion in their own supply and asked employees to take steps to conserve gear, such as extending use and limiting the number of staff making contact with patients, where possible.

“We had seen our PPE head down to a little below a two-week inventory, and we’re seeing that go back up now with our conservative measures. We’re very lucky that our workforce is super supportive, as is our community. Our materials folks are also getting very inventive on where they’re getting items,” the CEO said.

Even so, she said, a two-week supply isn’t much in the context of a pandemic, and Samaritan recently asked local and regional businesses to donate opened or unopened equipment, including, but not limited to, N-95 masks, disposable gowns, eye protection, swabs and viral transport tubes, and 70 percent or greater isopropyl alcohol (open alcohol containers cannot be accepted). 

She said a number of dentists and veterinarians — practitioners who have been ordered by the governor to cease non-emergency procedures to preserve PPE — have donated protective gear, and people have also dropped off household supplies like rubber gloves.

The governor’s “stay-at-home” order issued Monday closed tattoo parlors, which Ogden said use the same kind of protective gear employed by health care professionals, opening up another possible source to augment hospitals’ supply.

Donations can be left at hospital foundation offices — in the Bayview Building on the back side of the Newport campus and in the building located immediately at the entrance to the hospital campus in Lincoln City.

Since the virus was first detected in the U.S., putting the country’s health care providers on notice to be on the lookout for the disease, Samaritan has been testing patients with COVID-19 risk factors and symptoms who are negative for flu at both of its Lincoln County hospitals, and last week it started testing at a drive-thru location outside its clinic at Depoe Bay.

There has now been one positive case in Lincoln County. Eighteen tests have come back negative, and 61 tests are still pending results, Ogden said.