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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County hospitals remain stressed

ER waits up to 14 hours amid viruses; some meds in short supply

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Columbian staff reporter
Published: January 14, 2023, 6:04am

With parts of the country still in the midst of a tripledemic of respiratory viruses, emergency departments across Clark County continue to be overwhelmed with patients — on top of that, certain medicines and antibiotics are hard to come by.

“What is different this current season is the resurgence of the flu and RSV coupled with COVID,” said Dr. Kelly Pratt, medical director of the emergency department at Legacy Salmon Creek.

The most recent data from Clark County Public Health shows that 96.7 percent of hospital beds across the county are full, along with 96.6 percent of intensive care unit beds. This has remained consistent for months.

Though hospitals have certainly seen an influx of patients with respiratory viruses and continue to treat many with the flu, RSV or COVID-19, many beds are occupied by people who do not need to be hospitalized but have no where else to go.

Across the state, nursing home facilities are experiencing a staffing shortage crisis, which limits the number of beds available.

At PeaceHealth Southwest, the emergency department is not seeing a significant increase in patient volumes, but around half to one-third of its beds are full with patients waiting to transfer to a different department, a psychiatry ward or a nursing home, according to Dr. Jason Hanley, medical director for the PeaceHealth Southwest emergency department.

“(As a result), we are seeing unprecedented waits for patients,” Hanley said.

Typical wait times for the PeaceHealth Southwest emergency department used to be two to four hours. Now, four hours is considered a short wait as some patients may have to wait up to 14 hours or more if their condition is not critical, according to Hanley.

The emergency department at Legacy Salmon Creek is seeing the same thing. Between patients waiting to be transferred to full rehab facilities or nursing homes and the influx of respiratory viruses, waits are long and staff members are overwhelmed.

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“The teams are working really hard to make sure they are taking care of all the patients in a timely matter,”said Pratt.

Medicine shortages

Only adding to the strain on health care professionals, some antibiotics and medicines are hard to find.

Children’s Tylenol is in particularly short supply nationwide. As parents struggle to know what medicine to give their children when faced with a lack of options, Dr. Tracy Williams, internist and pediatrician at the Vancouver Clinic, advises parents to monitor their children’s symptoms and reach out to their pediatrician with any questions.

“We want to make ourselves available as pediatricians to see people,” Williams said. “Trust your instincts as a parent to help give (your kids) supportive care … (and) know that your pediatric offices are here to help.”

If your child is older than 6, ibuprofen can be a good choice to help with a fever, according to Williams. For younger kids, Williams does not recommend trying to divide adult Tylenol; it can be dangerous.

With cold and flu medicine in short supply, particularly for kids, the addition of some shortages in antibiotics adds another stressor. One key antibiotic, amoxicillin, used to pneumonia and ear infections, is in short supply across the county.

Ike Ekeya, pharmacist and owner of Square Care Medical and Pharmacy, is working to help meet that need by compounding amoxicillin, using a process of measuring a patients weight and age to figure out the correct amount of medicine to crush up and process. Ekeya reportedly receives multiple calls per day from physicians requesting amoxicillin for their patients.

“Compounding is one of the solutions that I can offer them,” Ekeya said. “We’re trying to help the community in anyway that we can.”

Help keep the community safe

Health officials across the county are urging individuals to take measures to help mitigate the spread of respiratory illnesses.

“We still have the rest of our winter season,” said Pratt.

She recommends a few basic but effective measures to help keep the community safe:

  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick or experiencing symptoms.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Wear a mask in indoor crowded spaces.
  • Get the flu vaccine and updated COVID-19 booster.

“These are very simple things that we know are really effective,” Pratt said.

Columbian staff reporter