A negative pressure room

A permanent negative pressure isolation room at Blue Mountain Hospital. The hospital has three negative pressure rooms available for isolation

The number of COVID-19 cases rose in August, but Blue Mountain Hospital continues to prepare and adapt as life with the virus carries on.  

Blue Mountain Hospital Emergency Medical Services Director Rebekah Rand said a person presenting symptoms at a hospital could take two different pathways. 

If somebody is experiencing signs of severe distress, such as extreme difficulty in breathing, a bluish tint on the lips or face or chest pain, they would be recommended to call 911 for the ambulance or report immediately to the emergency room, according to Rand.    

"If you're feeling really bad, we want you to go to the ER," Rand said. 

If a person is experiencing milder symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, congestion or a fever, then that person is recommended to call the Strawberry Wilderness Community Clinic and schedule an appointment or talk to a nurse for triage, an early assessment done by a trained nurse.

The nurse triage would go through the patient's symptoms and schedule an appointment with a provider — there are urgent care slots available — and determine if it's safe to stay at home and self monitor the symptoms or recommend the patient go to the ER.

The type, number and severity of symptoms a person has all impact the course of action.  

"Some require immediate care, like, if you're having shortness of breath, we would say, 'Oh my gosh, we need to get you to the ER,'" Rand said. "If you're experiencing milder symptoms like a fever or sore throat, that might be a situation where you are scheduled an appointment or recommended to stay home and quarantine."

She said if a person still wants to come in and be seen, depending on what the condition is, an appointment can be made.

Blue Mountain Hospital has the resources needed to accommodate for COVID-19 patients, such as three negative pressure rooms available for isolation at the hospital. 

Two negative pressure rooms are currently set up with the ability to quickly set up the third.

"We actually did a recent drill to time how long it would take us to assemble that room and make it negative pressure in an isolation room," Rand said. "We came in under 30 minutes, which is super fast."   

Rand said the hospital has an adequate stock of personal protective equipment, which include items like isolation gowns, gloves, goggles, face masks, properly fitted N95 masks and more. 

The hospital can procure more material from their supply chain if more PPE is needed. Rand said this is an important development because when COVID-19 first made waves in March, it was difficult to obtain PPE.

Rand said not all patients with COVID-19 need to be hospitalized and that treatment for the illness is not specific right now due to a lack of a vaccine. 

"Treatment is a lot of times supportive, and a lot of patients can actually go home and be treated with home quarantine and rest and plenty of fluids and things like that," Rand said. "If a person needed to be transported to a higher level of care, they would be, but only when needed."

She said that patients are sent to a higher level of care only when the symptoms or conditions are severe enough, but a majority of people can be hospitalized locally in one of their negative pressure rooms, or have symptoms treated at the hospital before sending the patient home with supportive care. 

There are no capacity concerns at the hospital right now, but if the hospital ever needs to transfer people out, they can send people to St. Charles in Bend, which is part of region seven for emergency preparedness, she said.

"COVID has been a marathon, not a sprint, so we've been dealing with this for a long time, and we've learned a lot of things and reaffirmed our plan on how we're going to treat COVID patients and keep our other patients safe," Rand said. "We are well equipped and ready to provide the care to our patients if they need it and treat the people that have milder symptoms or transfer our more critical or severe patients to a higher level of care when that's appropriate."


Rudy Diaz is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at rudy@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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