Eclipse prompts many Salem care providers to schedule closures, limited services

Many nonemergency care providers across Salem will close or limit services on eclipse day, Aug. 21, anticipating gridlock that could hamper emergency response, strand staff and patients or limit the effectiveness of some services.

These facilities are treating the total solar eclipse like severe weather or a holiday, trying to keep staff and clients off the roads by rescheduling appointments or eliminating some care options.

Considering the home-visit nature of their work, Willamette Valley Hospice has had to make considerable preparations. These include cutting as many appointments as possible and having staff work from home.

On an average weekday, Willamette Valley Hospice does between 130 and 150 visits, more than 100 of those proactive care and check-ins. Except for the most vital proactive visits -- including powerful medication level checks and wound inspections -- all on-call staff will respond to emergencies nearest to their homes, said business development manager Kevin Hohnbaum.

On Monday, hospice will also accept as few new patients as possible because of the staffing and time needed to do so. On average, they admit between four and seven new patients daily. Managing the variety of disparate pieces needed to arrive at someone's home during setup is difficult on a normal day.

"Let's not set people up to fail," Hohnbaum said.

They are also investing in a short-wave radio system allowing for staff members to communicate even if cell service crashes.

Communication is critical for hospice patients and their families in particular. Patients only receive hospice care if their life expectancy is six months or less, so the chances they will look ahead months or even several weeks are low, Hohnbaum said.

The organization has prepared a letter to send to patients explaining why staff won't have appointments on Monday and that clients need to stock up on medications.

But emergencies are certain to occur. On any given day, hospice responds to between 15 and 30 emergencies. Responding to these in a timely fashion is the organization's biggest concern, Hohnbaum said.

"How are we going to be able to react? How are we going to be able to help out?" he asked.

Some child care affected

While not strictly health care, some child care facilities in the city will close on Aug. 21 because of similar health and safety concerns.

Carolin VanOrden, executive director of the Salem Child Development Center, said there were simply too many unknowns surrounding the eclipse for them to remain open that day. They are closing all of their facilities, which affects about 600 kids.

"For us, it just came down to safety," VanOrden said.

She said the board of directors' decision hinged on the transportation of children to the program locations as well as the ability of an ambulance to respond in case of an emergency.

Sam Carroll, CEO of the YMCA of Marion and Polk Counties, echoed VanOrden about reasoning for the closure.

"We decided we wouldn't put people at risk," Carroll said.

Most of the impact of the closed YMCA will be on child care, preschool and day camps, Carroll said. They've received mixed reactions from the public, as has Salem Child Development Center, but both executives said most parents understood the reasoning after some explaining.

There are some care providers expected to open like normal for the day. The Salem VA clinic, for example, is planning to see patients, but is offering to reschedule appointments, said Daniel Herrigstad, spokesman for the VA Portland Health Care System.

"Just like when we have inclement weather, we don't close our facility, but we provide options for patients," Herrigstad said.

As the third Monday in August draws nearer, Herrigstad said they'll keep a close eye on road closures and expected traffic conditions so they can inform patients of the situation as it comes into more clarity. He said they hope patients are already aware of the eclipse and related traffic, particularly those who drive in for services from Central Oregon, but the situation calls for being proactive.

The Salem facility deals with mostly nearby patients, which does reduce traveling concerns somewhat.

Many health clinics closed, some open

Other facilities that will be closed include: West Salem Family Practice, Eye Care Physicians and Surgeons, Salem Gastro, Coastline Foot and Ankle and River Road Surgery Center, according to a list provided by Marion-Polk County Medical Society.

Some facilities that will remain open are Northwest Human Services, Cascade Infection Diseases and Infusion, and The Doctors' Clinic.

"They are all doing their part to provide good patient care while keeping people off the streets, out of traffic and safe," said Krista Wood, executive director of Marion-Polk County Medical Society.

Wood said that urgent care and emergency facilities will be open Monday, among those Salem Health, which is anticipating an increase in patients.

Expected ailments include more of the normal sickness and injury, but with additional eye injuries, alcohol poisonings, dehydration, heat exhaustion and more, caused by the incoming mass of humanity. The hospital will also be limiting elective surgeries from Thursday through Monday and shifting staff to the emergency department.

But Salem Clinic, which provides both emergency and preventative services, is taking a more laissez faire approach to potential eclipse impact. Beyond blocking schedules at eclipse time so staff and patients can have a small party and pop outside to watch the sky, the clinic is open.

Ericka Kingsbury, Salem Clinic corporate development and promotion manager, said they are assuming preventative care patients know about the possible traffic snarls and are making appointments with that in mind.

The urgent care department doesn't know if they'll get a significant increase patients, but closing either side wasn't an option, she said.

"We have patients who show up here who are 90 years old," Kingsbury said. "Traffic isn't going to keep our patients away."

Contact the reporter at cradnovich@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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