Providence Shifts Beds, Postpones Surgeries

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Providence Portland shifts more than 100 beds to COVID care, postpones surgeries, as leaders warn ‘much more will be demanded of us’

Providence announced this week that one in four patients at its flagship Northeast Portland hospital has COVID-19 and officials would immediately convert more than 100 additional beds to accommodate infections, warning workers that “much more will be demanded of all of us” in the weeks ahead.

According to a rare hospital-wide email sent Tuesday and obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive, administrators said four medical or surgical units would be dedicated to COVID-19 patients, some 101 beds cumulatively. Another 39 beds were in the planning stages and weren’t yet ready, with additional critical care beds available if needed.

Providence Health & Services in a separate email to staff announced that only urgent surgeries would be scheduled at its five hospitals in the metro area as of Thursday. Hospital administrators are trying to preemptively open up beds in expectation of a growing surge that will place “unprecedented pressure on our staffing and bed capacity.”

The details unveiled this week appear to be the first significant steps in surge plans becoming a reality for one of the metro area’s largest hospital networks. The Oregonian/OregonLive last month highlighted plans to potentially add thousands of beds for coronavirus patients in the Portland area alone, including 700 at Providence facilities, if needed.

Nearly 550 people are currently hospitalized statewide with COVID-19, more than triple the number from a month ago. A sizeable share is at Providence Portland Medical Center, which reported 82 patients Wednesday, plus another 40 at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on the westside.

The patient count at the Portland hospital quadrupled in the past month, increasing urgency with even more newly infected patients expected.

“Everything we have done the past nine months has prepared us for the coming weeks as we face an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 patients,” the hospital’s chief executive, Krista Farnham, and three subordinates wrote in the email.

“We have been preparing for what is to come, it will not be easy,” they wrote. “We will continue to do everything in our power to care for those in our community who are coming to us in need.”

The hospital is also taking steps to limit the number of people who enter. Starting Thursday, non-COVID patients at Providence Portland will be allowed one visitor for their entire stay.

Meanwhile, staff were told they may be reassigned to handle new duties.

“We are asking all caregivers to serve as needed, and share their expertise and talents for the greater good to help manage the challenges we face,” they wrote.

Surgeries will be dramatically cut back not only at Providence Portland but also St. Vincent and hospitals in Milwaukie, Oregon City and Newberg. The reductions don’t apply to other Providence hospitals, such as those in Medford or Hood River.

The only surgeries to move forward at metro-area Providence hospitals will be “emergent and urgent surgery,” procedures “which cannot be deferred for 4-6 weeks without significant risk to life of limb,” and urgent vascular, cardiac and cancer surgeries.

Joint, cosmetic, most spine, arthroscopic and other surgeries will be deferred.

“While these limits immediately impact the surgical departments, we fully expect that similar steps will soon be necessary in other procedural areas, including the cardiovascular lab and the medical procedure units,” the healthcare giant wrote Tuesday. “More direction around these settings will be forthcoming.”

Gary Walker, a Providence spokesperson, confirmed the authenticity of the Providence Portland email and provided details of the system-wide announcement.

Last month, Walker told The Oregonian/OregonLive that mobile morgue units were in place in Portland in case the St. Vincent and Providence Portland hospital morgues were packed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Walker said those mobile morgues had not been used.

-- Andrew Theen; [email protected]; 503-294-4026; @andrewtheen

This story was first posted on The Oregonian/OregonLive.

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