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Flu in area results in packed hospitals


January 31, 2017

Instances of influenza and influenza-like illnesses have been increasing throughout the United States and the Mid-Willamette Valley is no exception.

This has led to packed hospitals and longer ambulance trips.

“Like many hospitals, we run at or near capacity this time of year,” said Ian Rollins, marketing and public relations coordinator for Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital.

“This time of year,” being December through February.

SLCH has 25 beds.

Those were full when Bobbie Goddard, 81, went to the SLCH emergency room in the early morning on Jan. 17 for kidney pain.

She had kidney stones and the hospital staff gave her painkillers, which helped, she said.

“For a while it got worse but all of a sudden it was gone,” Goddard said. “That’s how I knew the stone had passed.”

She was told she needed to spend the night at the hospital but there was no room in Lebanon.

Goddard said she also was told that there was not a urologist available in Lebanon.

She was taken by ambulance to Tuality Community Hospital in Hillsboro.

“Generally, we do most of the transfers, 98 percent of them out of Samaritan,” said Ron Sipe, Division chief of operations for Lebanon Fire District.

The transfers recently have been out of the ordinary.

“During the last few weeks, with this last flu epidemic, all the hospitals are full in the valley,” he said.

They’ve taken patients to Silverton, Newport, Vancouver and Hillsboro, Sipe said.

“Our transfers typically are to Good Samaritan in Corvallis, from there, Albany, then Eugene and Salem,” he said.

While Rollins did not discuss the circumstances of Goddard’s situation, he said hospital staffers do their best to help people locally.

“When someone comes to our emergency department, we’re going to do everything we can to keep them here,” Rollins said. “We keep them as close to home as possible.”

In addition to the beds being full, Lebanon’s CT scan unit was down for maintenance for about 30 hours the day Goddard was there, Rollins said.

“We couldn’t get parts out of Portland because of weather,” he added. “It’s up and running now.”

The CT unit, which is about two years old, is maintained on a monthly basis.

“(They took) a lot of caution in caring for me,” Goddard said. “Sometimes a stone sits in a corner for a little while.”

She has an impaired kidney and understands the extra caution, she added.

Hillsboro is about an hour and a half from SLCH.

“My friends had to come up and get me,” Goddard said. “(Hospital staff) were telling me they could probably arrange for transportation home but my friends just came and got me.”

Susan Grove was able to stay closer to home when she took her 87-year-old mother to the SLCH emergency room on Jan. 13.

She took her in for a non-flu-related illness a little bit after lunch time. Doctors wanted her to stay overnight to run tests and were looking for a hospital that had an open bed.

“They had told me that all of the hospitals in western Oregon were full,” Grove said. “Around 4:30 p.m., they found out someone was going to be able to leave at 6 p.m. in Lebanon so she was able to move into that room.”

Pat Crozier, of the Linn County Public Health Department said they don’t have hard numbers for flu cases by county.

“It is not reportable unless someone is under 18 and dies or it is a new strain of influenza,” Crozier said. “I can tell you we have had three outbreaks of influenza-like illness in December and five in January. We continue to encourage flu vaccine, wash hands, and stay home if ill.”

Sipe has been in this business for more than 25 years.

“In my career I’ve never seen it like this before where everything and everybody was full,” Sipe said. “It does take a big drain, especially on the patients.”

“A lot of this happened during the snow storm and that was even icing on the cake,” he added.


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