Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Dec. 5, 2022 @ 3:10 p.m. / Health

Surge in RSV, Flu & COVID Cases Hamper Patient Transfers From Curry Health Network to Other Hospitals

Curry Health Network has set up an incident command and taken steps to expand emergency room space at its medical center in Brookings to handle a patient surge that’s impacting hospitals across Oregon.

About 50 percent of people presenting to Curry Health Network have symptoms consistent with viral infections such as COVID-19, influenza A or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), CEO Ginny Williams told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Monday.

Staff have registered as many as 20 people in about an hour and a half — an amount that Williams said is unheard of. In a video address to the community on Friday, Williams said some patients needing a higher level of care have had to wait more than 50 hours to be transferred to other facilities.

“You’re getting everybody admitted as quickly as possible,” she told the Outpost. “But it’s those patients who need a higher level of care, that is when you really start the clock ticking of, ‘How long are they really waiting?’ We had a few patients over the course of a couple days that we just couldn’t move and it’s not because other hospitals weren’t participating.”

On Wednesday, because of its inability to transfer patients from their emergency departments, Curry Health Network met the criteria for implementing crisis standards of care practices. This state designation provides hospitals with greater flexibility, allowing them to triage patients, giving priority to those who have a higher probability for survival.

Three other hospitals in Oregon — Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and Providence Medical Center — implemented crisis standards of care in response to the surge in viral infections, Williams said. This allows them to deviate from nursing staffing plans, she said.

“According to the Oregon Health Authority, a hospital must meet specific criteria and follow regulatory statutes in order to declare that it’s operating under these crisis standards,” Williams told the community on Friday.

“Curry Health Network does meet the criteria and we’ve taken the following actions: We opened our incident command on Nov. 30 and declared an emergency. We notified the Oregon Health Authority that we needed to implement our crisis standard of care. We’ve posted a notice in our website and we’ve posted signs throughout our ER and lobbies and we are making our crisis standards of care policy available to the public.”

On Friday, Williams said Curry Health Network was working with its nurse staffing committee to finalize the “safest staffing possible for patients and staff.”

In Brookings, Williams said the health network converted a portion of the waiting room into a “fast-track ER” that can treat people coming in with cold and flu symptoms. But, she said, the set up is temporary.

According to Williams, the gridlock in patient transfers isn’t new. Curry Health Network and Oregon hospitals have been experiencing it since the COVID-19 Delta surge in 2021. She said the other hospitals Curry works with have been sympathetic and take patients as soon as beds open up.

When asked if this gridlock has affected the ability to transfer patients from Curry to Sutter Coast Hospital, Williams said she has heard anecdotally that it is at capacity as well, but couldn't speak for them.

“I really hope that the public realizes how hard healthcare workers are working and how hard that work is,” Williams said. “My wish for this holiday season is if you know a healthcare worker, drop them a card, say thank you, whatever that something special is. They too have the stresses of life like all of us and then they come to work and re-live it all over again.”

The Wild Rivers Outpost has yet to hear from Sutter Health representatives as well as representatives of the Del Norte Public Health Branch.


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