National Guard troops screening visitors at the entrances.

Nurses working so many 12 hour shifts in a row the days become a blur.

A children’s ward turned into a makeshift intensive care unit, the rooms cleaned and filled so quickly there is no time to grieve.

Douglas County is experiencing an unprecedented surge in new COVID-19 cases, and in turn, hospitalizations. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized tripled in August, to more than 90. That has put CHI Mercy Medical Center — and specifically its intensive care unit — at the center of the storm.

Longtime employees at Mercy say nothing comparable has ever happened at the hospital. Many fear the situation will get worse before it gets better.

“This is real, it’s spreading like wildfire,” said Allison Williams, an 18-year veteran at the hospital who heads up the ICU. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The numbers are startling, scary and depressing all at once.

In August alone, there have been more than 5,000 new cases reported in the county and 37 COVID-19 related deaths.

The explosion of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths is not just happening here. This past week, the number of Oregonians who were in the hospital due to COVID-19 surpassed 1,000 cases for the first time. More than 93% of the hospital beds in the state, including those in ICU units, are occupied, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

On Friday, there were 3,207 new confirmed and presumptive cases in the state, the highest single-day total ever.

Over the past couple of months, Douglas County has had the distinction of being among the leading counties when it comes to new cases. And those grim numbers translate to daily new patients at Mercy, which is already stretched to its limits.

This week the hospital had a total of 116 patients, out of 140 beds available. Of those patients, 63% had the coronavirus, meaning parts of the hospital have been turned into mini COVID-19 wards.

“It becomes a challenge sometimes if you don’t have enough places to put people,” Williams said.

The steep increase in COVID-19 cases has disrupted operations throughout CHI Mercy. Appointments for routine care like physical therapy are being canceled and even some more serious procedures are postponed due to a shortage of available medical personnel.

But no unit has been more affected, or come under more strain, then intensive care.

If there is a war raging against COVID, as some say, the staff in the ICU are on the front lines.

The ICU has 16 rooms, full of course, with every patient sedated into silence. The sedation is needed because they each have breathing tubes down their throats; the sedatives keep them still.

The ICU is quiet; the only sounds come from the chatter of the nurses and the beep beep of the machinery in each room.

There are about a dozen nurses and other staff in the main ICU unit at any one time.

Each room is glassed in and the glass doors are kept shut as an extra precaution against COVID-19. That means the staff has to be alert to any alarms that may go off in a room, signaling a patient needs attention.

The desire to keep the rooms closed and limit traffic in and out has led the staff to write notes in black marker on the outside of the glass, indicating dosages and other patient information.

With the ICU completely full, Mercy had to get creative. It turned a section known as a Progressive Care Unit into an overflow ICU. The PCU unit initially had 16 ICU care beds, then added four more. That amounts to a total of 36 ICU care beds.

Unlike the standard ICU rooms, the PCU rooms had solid doors; glass slits had to be added to the doors to help the nurses keep a better eye on their patients.

Part of the PCU unit served as a small pediatric ward. There is a sign on a door warning parents not to add extra water to infant formula. A wall holds a poster showcasing a half-dozen cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.

There is also a banner painted along the walls with Mickey Mouse smiling and posing. A hand-drawn poster tacked onto the nursing station features red hearts and the note: “Thank you Doctor’s, Nurses and Staff.”

When it comes to fighting COVID, and boosting morale among the staff, every little bit helps.

When they lose a patient, and there have been more and more losses of late, there’s scant time to mourn. Other patients are waiting.

“In this unit, when a bed is empty, it’s cleaned and filled right away,” Williams said.

Finding qualified nurses was a challenge before COVID-19, Wiliams said. Now it’s become an around-the-clock concern. That staffing shortage is compounded when a staff member tests positive for the coronavirus and had to be pulled off the rotation, she said.

“You think you have a plan, then you have three or four staff who call in. Then you need a new plan,” Williams said.

The nurses and other staff are working 12-hour shifts, five and six days a week, sometimes more.

Every day they come in not knowing exactly what they’ll face, just knowing it won’t be pleasant.

Williams said she sees the tension, fatigue and worry in the eyes and on the faces of her staff.

“Everyone has their game face on,” she said. “It’s completely different.”

To help ease the staffing shortage, Gov. Kate Brown has committed to bringing in out-of-state medical professionals to help fill the staffing shortages, like the one at Mercy.

Sarah Baumgartner, spokesperson for Mercy Medical Center, said the hospital has asked for 82 medical personnel from the governor’s program, including 41 total clinical staff and 24 nurses. The details are still being worked out, she said.

“We will know more next week,” Baumgartner said. “We have not received confirmation of what we are receiving, but it is in the works.”

One bright spot in the fight against COVID is the way the community has rallied around Mercy, and pitched in in ways big and small. Other hospitals and medical care providers have shared supplies, and occasionally staff, with Mercy. On Friday, the Ford Foundation paid for two food trucks to serve meals to the weary staff, providing a brief respite.

Then there was the person who walked in and handed over $500 worth of gift cards to give to the staff. They didn’t leave their name, Baumgartner said.

Workers, too, are going above and beyond in an effort to help. Williams said she knew of one 67-year-old employee who postponed their retirement to remain on the job.

Troy Wilder, an administrator at the VA Medical Center in Roseburg, also stepped up. Wilder is a respiratory therapist, skills that are in great demand in the fight against COVID-19.

So he took a leave of absence at the VA, and for the past several weeks, has volunteered his time at Mercy. Wilder is matter-of-fact about it all.

“I have the skills and they need my help,” he said. “I grew up here. I’m part of this community.”

Part of the worry among staff at the hospital is that at the moment there is no end in sight. One study released his week by the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland said models show the current record high levels of hospitalizations could likely continue until Labor Day.

The hospitalizations will begin to taper off after that, the study found, but will not return to earlier, lower levels until around Halloween.

Williams said the only situation she can compare this to is when swine flu swept through in 2009. That was estimated to have killed about 300,000 people worldwide. COVID-19 is much worse, she said.

“We have younger patients, “ Williams said. “It’s never easy when anyone dies, but when you have a 25-year-old die versus a 90-year-old, it’s a little harder.”

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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(47) comments

Mike

When Mercy Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Gray and Repiratory Therapist Manager David Kalish were interviewed for 20 minutes on KQEN radio last night about Mercy’s Covid status. NOT ONCE did they mention or encourage people to get vaccinated.

https://kqennewsradio.com/2021/09/01/inside-douglas-county-9-1-21/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inside-douglas-county-9-1-21

CitizenJoe

Well, no. And why mention vaccination?

If you get vaccinated, your shoulder hurts a bit and you have to hang out for 20 minutes. If, instead, you stop by the feed store for horse paste, you are out the door, painlessly, in a couple minutes. So you have an extra 18 minutes to mingle masklessly in society....

JustAnotherCitizen

I've heard Dr Gray in multiple venues promote the vaccine vigorously. You cant cover everything in an interview and often are just responding to questions. Try a little empathy and common sense on for size Mike. He's on the frontlines literally putting his life at risk daily. NRT commenters?? Not so much.

Mike

Douglas County has the had the HIGHEST number of per capita Covid cases AND Deaths of ALL counties in Oregon for BOTH of the last two weeks according to the Oregon Health Authority Metrics Report (below link) published today. No other county in Oregon had more per capita deaths and cases than Douglas County.

And still, our County Commissioners take no action to save lives.

https://www.oregon.gov/oha/covid19/Documents/DataReports/Weekly-County-Metrics.pdf

OregonTrail88

Thank you for your informative information backed up by links.

I hope Roseburg is reading.

Mike

18 Douglas County residents have died of Covid over the last week. This comes after the County Commissioners Covid Recovery Team today reported 425 new cases and 7 MORE DEATHS occurred over the weekend. NONE of the 7 residents who most recently died were fully vaccinated.

The 5 DEATHS reported on Saturday broke the RECORD of 4 deaths in one day established on December 15 and tied three times in the last two weeks.

45 deaths (33% of the total) have been reported in August alone. 50 deaths (37% of the total) have been reported since Douglas County Commissioners were handed Covid restriction control by the Governor on July 1.

The County Commissioners Recovery Team reported the vaccination status of the last 27 residents who have died. 20 of the 27 deaths (74%) were NOT fully vaccinated and averaged 67.1 years of age. 7 of the deaths (26%) were fully vaccinated and averaged 76.8 years of age.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) tracks the vaccination status of each county in the United States, including VA Hospitals and Tribal sites, and reports on it daily (below link). According to the CDC, 50.0% of Douglas County’s total population has received their first dose of vaccine today and 43.7% are fully vaccinated.

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations-county-view

2,434 new coronavirus cases have been reported in Douglas County over the past two weeks which calculates to a 14-day case rate of 2,168.4 today, which is more than ten times higher than the maximum case rate of 200 previously required for in-dining restaurants, bars, theaters and health clubs to remain open. This case rate has increased every day for the past 43 days. These are AGAIN all new records.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 5,495 new coronavirus cases and 40 deaths (below link) today over the past week in Oregon. Oregon’s 7-day positive test rate is 10.1% today. Compare this to Douglas County’s positive test rate of 27.4%.

The Oregon Health Authority tracks hospital statistics for seven different regions in Oregon. Region 3 consists of Douglas, Coos, Curry and Lane Counties. 245 coronavirus cases are hospitalized in Region 3 today. A RECORD 69 are in ICU and a RECORD 48 are on ventilators in Region 3. 1,084 new coronavirus cases were reported in Region 3 over the weekend.

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/ORDHS/bulletins/2ef133c

Mike

I recently lost contract with a person who has been a personal friend of mine for 43 years. Now I know why. Covid. My 60-year old friend spent most of the spring in ICU, 17 days on a ventilator. He twice died in his bed and was brought back. He had 6 cm of one of his ribs removed to install a tube to allow water to be drained from his heart. Months later, he is barely able to walk and has the tube still in and draining liquid daily. His picture portrays someone who looks closer to 100 years old.

My friend’s wife, who manages two cancer hospitals, has been diagnosed with PTSD because of the ordeal. Most of my friend’s family, sons and daughters, are in the medical profession. All but him were vaccinated. My friend has since been vaccinated and also received the booster because of his compromised condition. I'm so happy to still have his friendship.

mworden

I'm sorry for your friend's suffering and for his family's great stress in dealing with all the effects of covid. I hope his health and strength improve in time.

Mike

Thank you.

OregonTrail88

Ivermectin is proving to be another rightwing ruse going down the same highway as Hydroxychloroquine.

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/ivermectin-demand-drives-trump-telemedicine-website-rcna1791

NJ

Glad you're here OT, thought I was the only one posting about this stock de-wormer. Welcome! [thumbup]

OregonTrail88

[thumbup]

OregonTrail88

Tim Powell, the CEO of Evergreen, advocates for Ivermectin on his blog site at Evergreen Family Medicine. I kid you not.

Roseburg deserves better than this.

Fraudulent studies are now being found out.

https://newrepublic.com/article/163466/ivermectin-culture-war-covid-vaccine

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2021/08/30/no-ivermectin-cannot-treat-covid-19/?sh=3ce6ff8c3c03

melrosereader

Maybe the Oregon Medical Board needs to discipline him.

mworden

I've looked into this. Apparently, as long as Evergreen and the Powells provide proper medical care, they can espouse all their foolishness. IMO, Evergreen did a good job of making the vaccine available, with Saturday clinics that reduced exposure to other patients.

I regularly consider changing clinics because of the Powells, although I'm very satisfied with my provider. It's caused a lot of cognitive dissonance.

OregonTrail88

Agreed-Evergreen is a well-oiled family practice and my family appreciates the care received from them.

Their CEO needs to improve his gathering of legitimate medical data and recognize hoaxes on the internet. This is a challenge for all of us.

st paddy

i too, am in exactly the same boat as you. if not for my doctor i would leave evergreen, although i may start using a different urgent care.

NJ

My feelings are the same. My elder likes his provider at Evergreen. Powell I wouldn't let treat my dog.

Mike

Powell(s). Its plural.

OregonTrail88

I've looked into this. It would be swell if Tim Powell can come to his senses on his own, with a little bit of work on his part, and publicly reject the Ivermectin narrative.

melrosereader

Maybe the un-vaccinated, instead of going to Mercy Hospital, should find a Trump Hospital where they can get all the de-wormer and bleach they can eat.

Rockyboy

"Wilder is matter-of-fact about it all. 'I have the skills and they need my help,” he said. “I grew up here. I’m part of this community.'”

The essence of community spirit. Salud!

OregonHusker

Why is Mercy asking the governor for help? Where are Commissioners Larry, Moe, Curly and Sheriff Groucho Marx? These folks have been crying about local control for months and now they're completely absent when help is needed? The News Review and KPIC need to be in their offices asking what their definition of local control is and where are the medical services our community needs right now. Action and lip service are two very different things.

Citizen495

[thumbup]

mworden

I may be wrong, but I think Larry, Curly and Moe had to make the request to the state for more personnel.

Mike

They haven't had a problem sending MULTIPLE letters to the Governor demanding things in the recent past and then publishing them for the public to see. So where is their letter to the Governor requesting help?

mworden

Don't hold your breath waiting. Can't upset the base.

Mike

Exactly my point.

OregonHusker

I believe I read Mercy made the call. I wonder if Larry, Moe, Curly and Groucho will be in Mercy's parking lot when the cooler arrives? Nice legacy for those four.

Mike

[thumbup]

OregonTrail88

[thumbup]

Sadie

EXACTLY!

Mike

Ivermectin debacle exposes hypocrisy of anti-vaccine crowd.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/health/2021/08/28/ivermectin-coronavirus-fda-deworming-livestock-ftr-brown-dnt-nr-vpx.cnn

Mike

Children under 12 getting coronavirus at alarming rate.

https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/covid-19-cases-in-florida-children-continues-to-trend-up

Mike

'There is no room to put these bodies,' Alabama health official says as Covid-19 deaths climb.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/28/health/us-coronavirus-saturday/index.html

Mike

First, surges in Covid-19 infections led to shortages of hospital beds and staff. Now it's oxygen.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/29/health/us-coronavirus-sunday/index.html

don4058

Very good article. It would be very interesting to know the number of professional and support staff that are vaccinated.

Mike

[thumbup]

OregonHusker

They reported a few weeks ago that well over 90% of the professional staff is vaccinated and 61% of support staf is vaccinated.

NJ

And that only 29% of home health care staff are vaccinated. Now there's a good reason to be very careful when considering and elder's aging in place with home health care.

Citizen495

Was on weekly shopping trip yesterday and listened to a soon to be formerly employed healthcare worker griping that she will be looking for a new job since she won’t get vaccinated. Not for medical or religious reasons but because “It’s a hoax, no big deal.”

Mike

McDonald's, Arby's, Panda Express and Sonic are ALL hiring. So far none of them require vaccination.

OregonHusker

I went to Sherm's tonight to shop. Thankfully I didn't go as late as I normally do because Sherm's is now closing at 10 PM due to being short staffed. It turns out there are a large number of employees sick from Covid and a number of other employees quit.

Sadie

All of them.

melrosereader

Of course even when the governor sends additional staff, those traveling nurses won't know where equipment is; they won't know their way around; and it will be the already overworked staff that will have to take the time to show them where things are (even the staff cafeteria and rest rooms.)

CitizenJoe

Scott: superbly written, vivid and compelling. And thank you for using the right word, "center" instead of the wrong word, "epicenter." ("...at the center of the storm....")

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning."

---Mark Twain

jjfummer

Excellent reporting. Thank you for your first hand account.

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