SW Washington Hospitals Brace For Potential Spike In Coronavirus Cases

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
March 21, 2020 12 a.m.

As of Friday, medical staff standing in front of large white tents now greet anyone heading to PeaceHealth Southwest’s Emergency Room.

Cars that pulled into the roundabout of the Vancouver hospital were met by masked nurses who asked people to wash their hands and put on their own masks. Patients fielded questions about symptoms.

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PeaceHealth Southwest staff talk in front of newly erected triage tents outside the emergency room in Vancouver, Wash. Hospitals are taking steps to prepare for a surge in patients from the novel coronavirus.

PeaceHealth Southwest staff talk in front of newly erected triage tents outside the emergency room in Vancouver, Wash. Hospitals are taking steps to prepare for a surge in patients from the novel coronavirus.

Troy Brynelson / OPB

The tent is the latest effort by the hospital – like hospitals around the world — to brace for an expected influx of novel coronavirus cases. PeaceHealth officials said they expect many more people to test positive for the disease – known as COVID-19 – in the coming weeks.

“We don’t know right now when or where those patients are going to come from, but from experience in Seattle, Italy, China, we want to be ready for when that patient load hits to make sure we can keep all the patients in the community as safe as possible,” said Jason Hanley, director of the hospital’s emergency department.

PeaceHealth isn’t alone. A few miles away, Legacy Salmon Creek on Sunday will set up its own triage tent, according to a spokesman. Entire field hospitals are being built in Salem and King County, Washington.

Related: Search Underway In SW Washington For Hotels, Churches As Quarantine Sites for Homeless

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Southwest Washington’s confirmed cases of coronavirus have been comparatively few. There have been 11 confirmed cases in the region, spanning the coast to the Columbia River Gorge and north to Lewis County. To date, three people have died.

PeaceHealth’s emergency department is the busiest in the region. It sees close to 80,000 patients a year with 53 beds. The tents don’t add beds but between 20 and 30 people can be triaged there, Hanley said.

Still, medical supplies – or a lack thereof – continues to be a concern. According to Clark County Public Health, local providers haven’t received any supplies from the state since the outbreak started.

For example, providers have requested a combined 6,500 flu swab kits for testing, more than 10,000 masks and thousands of gloves. None have been fulfilled.

In a letter sent to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Clark County officials said they are at a "critical tipping point" that demands more supplies.

"Specifically we need the basic supplies to perform tests. This includes swabs and transport media. We also need masks and gowns," read the letter, signed by the county's five councilors.

"With the needed supplies, we'll be able to send personnel into long term care facilities to test some of our most vulnerable residents who have already suffered a potential exposure," the letter said. "If we can do this within the next 48 hours, we truly do have a chance to flatten the curve in Southwest Washington."

Back at PeaceHealth, Hanley said he felt the hospital had “sufficient” supplies for now. But he did worry the hospital could run out if cases surge.

“We’re trying to conserve as best as possible,” Hanley said.

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