Clark County hospitals haven’t yet experienced a strain in providing medical care, but they are preparing for the possibility.
Legacy Health and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center both told The Columbian on Tuesday that they are postponing elective surgeries for the near future. Urgent and emergency surgeries will still be performed.
Starting today, Legacy will postpone those procedures for two weeks, and reassess that decision April 1. PeaceHealth has declared an indefinite suspension on elective procedures.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to stop the spread of COVID-19, and protect our patients, employees, providers, and communities,” Legacy spokeswoman Kristin Whitney said in a statement. “This action reduces the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and helps ensure we have the resources available to care for critically ill patients.”
A knee surgery is an example of an elective surgery. While it’s important to the patient’s quality of life, it’s something that can be delayed for a couple weeks without endangering the patient’s health.
“This measure will free up space in our hospital, while also conserving supplies and ensuring the safety of all patients, community and caregivers,” PeaceHealth spokeswoman Debra Carnes said in an email.
Both hospitals have already implemented strict visitor restrictions to protect patients and staff. Carnes said PeaceHealth Southwest has about 350 total beds available, and has been operating at a patient census of 240 beds over the last year. She said the hospital volume was “slightly down” this week.
Legacy Health spokeswoman Vicki Guinn said in an email that Salmon Creek is licensed for 220 beds, and is currently operating 208 beds. The recent hospital census numbers have been between 180 and 205.
Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center President Jon Hersen said his hospital hasn’t run short of personal protection equipment such as masks, but added that Legacy is monitoring the usage rate of that equipment as well as the supply chain for replacements.
“We still have adequate supplies,” he said, “but if any of those variables start to change, that’s when we would start to be concerned.”
Salmon Creek has tested more patients for COVID-19 in the last three to five days, Hersen said, although he didn’t give The Columbian specific numbers by press time. Salmon Creek still hasn’t had a positive test, he said.
He did say that testing turnaround has been problematic, with five- to six-day waits for results. Legacy has mainly been sending tests to the University of Washington virology laboratory.
“That has certainly been an issue,” Hersen said. “We hope to see that improve over the coming weeks.”
In order to get tested at Legacy, patients must have a suspected viral lower respiratory tract infection, characterized by shortness of breath, high fever, or changes of consciousness. They also need to have tested negative for flu and be in need of hospitalization, according to Whitney.
“We have tried to prioritize getting tests and tests results for those who are the sickest,” Whitney said.
The virus has strained hospitals in King and Snohomish counties. More than 820 cases have been confirmed, and close to 50 deaths have occurred there.
Whitney said Legacy Health hopes to be able to conduct its own COVID-19 testing in the next two weeks. Testing would start out with “limited ability” at the Legacy Central Laboratory in Northeast Portland using methods similar to those used at public health labs and the UW lab.
Legacy is also working to get materials for testing that could utilize Legacy’s automated, high-throughput systems, which would greatly increase testing capacity.
“We will begin to develop this test as soon as supply materials are received from the manufacturer,” Whitney said.