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As Eugene's emergency room closes, the fire department plans to step up

With PeaceHealth's University District Hospital closing, local first responders are bracing
PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center University District in Eugene, Ore. | COURTESY OF PEACEHEALTH
December 1, 2023

With the only emergency room in Eugene set to close Friday, the city’s fire department is trying to strengthen its emergency response.

PeaceHealth is planning to shutter multiple services at its University District location in December, redirecting patients to its hospital at RiverBend in Springfield.

At a City Council meeting Monday, Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Mike Caven said this is likely to create a larger burden on first responders. He said patients who could’ve walked into the ER in the past may now need to be transported to Springfield by ambulance.

To meet demand, Caven said Eugene Springfield Fire will begin staffing a squad for downtown Eugene and nearby areas this week, with an additional medical unit stationed in the Whiteaker neighborhood.

Caven said the department is also trying to balance the workload of units, and it's working with community partners on alternatives to hospitalization. He said staff have options in reserve in the event of a crisis.

“If we run out of units, and we need a fire crew to temporarily staff an ambulance to help support capacity, it's not ideal, but it's there,” he said.

Currently, the department is waiting to obtain three additional ambulances that have already been funded, which it expects to have in three to four months.

Caven is asking for more money to help meet the department's new responsibilities. He said the department can be somewhat flexible with expenses at this time, as its budget is funded on a two year timeline.

“We're not in crisis mode trying to figure out, ‘how are we going to pay this? How are we going to balance the budget immediately?’” said Caven.

Together with the City of Eugene, Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, is now drafting a bill to request one-time emergency funding from the state legislature, which is intended to respond to the loss of PeaceHealth services.

City officials say this money could pay for a new ambulance and community response unit for the fire department, while piloting wellness programs meant to reduce the need for emergency services.

A spokesperson for Nathanson said she was unavailable to comment Tuesday, and she is still in discussion around the details of the bill.

This article was originally published by KLCC.