Portland, Oregon hospitals cut some surgeries amid COVID surge

FILE - Medical staff members treat a patient suffering from coronavirus. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

Several major hospitals in Portland, Oregon, are curtailing some elective surgeries amid a surge in COVID-19 cases as intensive care unit and non-ICU hospital beds alike fill up.

Three out of the five major Portland hospital systems — Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Sciences University and Kaiser Permanente Northwest — are instituting new limits on surgeries to keep hospital beds free, The Oregonian reported Thursday.

Oregon’s average daily case rate passed 800 for the first time Wednesday. Gov. Kate Brown said earlier this week that the state is at a “crossroads" as health officials attempt to control a rapid increase in COVID-10 cases driven mostly by indoor gatherings as the weather gets colder.

COVID-19 hospitalizations were up 57% over the previous week and 83% over the past four weeks, officials said Tuesday.

It can take days or weeks after diagnosis for people with COVID to require hospitalization. Hospitals are bracing for the likelihood that high numbers of new cases will translate into strain on hospitals later this month and into December.

Currently, out of Oregon’s 726 staffed intensive care unit beds, about 20% are available and about 13% of 4,478 non-ICU adult hospital beds in the state are available, according to state health data updated Wednesday. Those percentages are down from Tuesday, when there were about 27% of ICU beds available and 18% of non-ICU beds free statewide.

As of Wednesday, there were 27 patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 on ventilators statewide.

Legacy Health, which operates Legacy Good Samaritan and Legacy Emanuel medical centers in Portland, hopes to reduce the number of elective surgeries that require a hospital stay by 25%. Outpatient procedures and day surgeries will not be affected.

“We will monitor the situation and adjust as needed,” Trent Green, the chief operating officer, wrote in an email to doctors and staff Wednesday. “If the number of hospitalized patients continues to grow, we may cancel more surgeries. As hospital volumes lower, we will add back elective surgeries.”

Kaiser Permanente Northwest is implementing a “scheduling pause” at its eastside Sunnyside facilities and Westside Medical Center through Dec. 31.

“We’re seeing a significant increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate, which may result in further constraints to inpatient bed availability through the rest of the year,” spokesman Michael Foley said in an email.

The Oregon Health & Sciences University implemented voluntary restrictions late last week.

Providence, the state’s largest health system, has opted not to reduce surgeries – yet.

“Providence did not cancel surgeries today; (it) is not canceling tomorrow (and it) continues to monitor the situation and plan ahead,” Gary Walker, a Providence spokesman, told the Oregonian in an email.

Hip and knee replacements are examples of the kinds of voluntary procedures that will be curtailed at hospitals under the current plan. Considered sufficiently major, they typically require at least a one-night stay.

If someone is in acute pain because of a bad joint, the surgery would take place, said Brian Terrett, a Legacy spokesman. But if the procedure can be put off, doctors may well be contacting patients about doing just that.

COVID cases have been steadily rising for two months and recently spiked to unprecedented levels in Oregon, averaging 817 cases a day over the past week. Oregon has seen active hospitalizations roughly double in the past two weeks, rising to 290 on Wednesday.

Nine counties with high COVID transmission — including all of the Portland metropolitan area — began a two-week pause on social activities Wednesday to attempt to keep the virus under control.

The updated safety measures include halting visitations to long-term care facilities, reducing the capacity of indoor dining at restaurants to 50 people, encouraging all business to mandate work from home and urging Oregon residents not to gather with people who do not live in their household and if they do so to limit the gatherings to six people.

These pause measures will be in effect from through Nov. 25 for Baker, Clackamas, Malheur, Marion, Multnomah, Jackson, Umatilla, Union and Washington counties.