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Portland Area Hospitals Say They're Prepared For Coronavirus

Oregon Health & Science University's sprawling west side campus in Portland. | AARON BIELECK/OHSU
March 2, 2020

Oregon hospitals are preparing for a potential influx of patients infected with coronavirus, though they’ve released scant details but at least one hospital has started to isolate rooms for patients.

Sources told The Lund Report that at least two rooms have been blocked off at Oregon Health & Science University for patients, with signs on the doors saying they were for patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by this new coronavirus that started in China and has spread across the globe. OHSU did not respond to a request for comment but it did release a statement saying it has activated an emergency operations center that is  “working to adapt disaster plans in place from previous disease outbreaks.”

The university plans to conduct a tabletop exercise this week to test its emergency plan. 

There is no vaccine or treatment for the novel coronavirus. Health officials advise patients to isolate themselves to avoid spreading the bug in the community. But they say people should seek emergency care if they become seriously ill, for example, if they have trouble breathing, can’t walk without becoming faint, aren’t making much urine or don’t feel better after taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to calm the fever. OHSU asked patients who might be infected not to walk into a a clinic but to call first to give providers a chance to prepare and prevent the spread to other people.

Oregon’s first presumptive case, a person who works at Forest Hills Elementary School in Lake Oswego, is being treated in isolation at Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro. 

“Kaiser Permanente has been preparing for potential COVID-19 cases since it was first announced,” Michael Foley, Kaiser Permanente's spokesman said in a statement. “All members of the care team are following (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) protocols.”

Foley said the patient is in an isolation room with negative pressure and special ventilation to prevent the bug from infecting providers, visitors or other patients. Negative pressure rooms are designed to draw air in and then either send it outside or through a highly efficient filter that removes particles that could spread disease.

Gary Walker, spokesman at Providence Health & Services in Portland, said its facilities are also prepared to place any coronavirus patients in an isolated, negative pressure room. He said Providence has all the supplies it needs, while acknowledging that they could run short.

“As part of a large health system that serves seven states, we are able to shift supplies from one area to another, as needs arise,” Walker said in a statement. “Additionally, we are working with other hospitals, health systems and local and state public health authorities to further coordinate a supply of resources. However, we recognize that the global supply of personal protective equipment used in the treatment of virus outbreaks is not limitless and may be strained as a result of COVID-19. We are monitoring this situation daily and implementing preventive conservation efforts.”

In its statement, OHSU also did not release details about its supplies: “An internal task force meets weekly to discuss supplies, logistics, emergency management and necessary measures to ensure the health of patients, students, faculty and staff,” it said. Hospital sources told The Lund Report that the university is rationing the highest level of sterile gowns while awaiting more supplies.

Legacy Health also responded to The Lund Report’s request for details with a statement as well, saying, like the other hospitals, that it is coordinating with the Oregon Health Authority and local public health officials and that its staff members are properly trained.

“Under the guidance of our infection prevention and control team, our staff and providers are trained to follow the most current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are prepared to care for any patient with airborne viruses, including COVID-19 at all Legacy Health hospitals in Oregon and SW Washington,” Dr. Lewis Low, Legacy’s chief medical officer said in a statement. 

PeaceHealth, which has hospitals in Oregon outside the Portland area and Southwest Washington, said in a statement it has an emergency plan in place, and has "adequate supplies of protective equipment in all locations, including masks and appropriate signage."

The Oregon Health Authority, which has a command center to coordinate Oregon's response, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.