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Smaller hospitals in Oregon overwhelmed weeks before COVID peak

Overworked medical professionals in Jackson and Josephine Counties say if people do not get vaccinated the death toll will continue to climb.

PORTLAND, Ore. — From the outside, Asante's Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, Ore. looks calm. But inside, each day is a battle to find room for all the patients arriving for help.

“I would describe this as a health care crisis at this point," said CEO Win Howard. "I've been in healthcare leadership roles for 25 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this."

The hospital is licensed for 125 beds but got emergency authorization to increase that to 161. It is still not enough.

Howard said there were 44 people in the hospital's emergency room.

“Fourteen of those patients are waiting for beds. And so we're trying to figure out where we can place those patients,” he said.

RELATED: All COVID patients in OHSU ICU are unvaccinated, doctor says

Fifty-nine patients at Three Rivers Medical Center had COVID on Monday. But the surge of those patients on top of everything else is overwhelming.

Howard said on July 22, Josephine and Jackson counties had 32 people in various hospitals with COVID-19. Come Aug. 16, that number had jumped to 165, Howard said.

Some doctors and nurses are working 70-hour weeks. Some, like Dr. Scott Nelson, a surgeon, are sharing their frustration and worry.

“We are going to see our death rate exponentially increase over the next weeks and months in our community if we don’t get people vaccinated,” Nelson said.

In Josephine County, 51% of those 18 and older are vaccinated. In Jackson County, 57% of those 18 and older are vaccinated according to the Oregon Health Authority. Those are some of the lower rates, although not the lowest in the state.

Still, doctors on the front lines are frustrated and worried.

RELATED: 'I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy': COVID-19 long-haulers urge people to get vaccinated

“If we do not do this- I guarantee you will see refrigerated trucks in the back of the ER taking the bodies out because that is where we are going to be in the next week or two,” said Nelson.

It is a frightening thought. But the projections from Oregon Health and Sciences University show this fifth wave of COVID is just getting going-- and may not hit its peak for three more weeks.

“Quite honestly I prayed that we'd never get to this point," said Howard. "And we're at a point in the pandemic and where we are with the surge that I thought this day would never come but it is definitely here."

Have a comment or story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com

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