By Lynne Terry
Time to stock up on the antidote for rattlesnake bites and boost blood supplies.
More than 1 million visitors are expected to flood the state for the solar eclipse Aug. 21 and hospitals in its path are ramping up for the massive influx.
For hospital systems from central Oregon to the coast, it will be all-hands on deck in the run-up and aftermath of the eclipse.
Without a precedent, planners have turned for advice to their counterparts in Sturgis, a town in South Dakota that attracts about a half a million people for a yearly motorcycle rally in August.
“One of the key things that we learned was that the need for acute care services oftentimes just mimics the increase in the population,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, executive vice president of St. Charles Health System in Bend.
That means more patients with food poisoning, broken bones, strokes and heart attacks. It also means more emergency surgeries for traumatic injuries.
Here’s what’s planned:
St. Charles Health System, with hospitals and clinics in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras, has an emergency plan for Aug. 16 to 23. It expects the local population to increase by 280,000, more than doubling.
To meet the demand, the hospital system has canceled elective surgeries, such as hernia operations and joint replacements. It has limited time off and contracted to bring in nearly 60 traveling nurses. Administrators have also moved staff around, shifting doctors and nurses from nonclinical positions to the emergency room.
The hospital system has stocked up on supplies, buying everything from extra gauze and saline solution to pharmaceuticals. It also received extra blood from the Red Cross in Portland, nearly doubling its supply.
The Red Cross declined to provide any details about its contingency plans but said it would have the need for blood covered.
St. Charles Health System also purchased extra antidote for rattlesnake bites.
“It’s a little tricky because it has a short shelf life, said Lisa Goodman, spokeswoman for the hospital system.
Clinics in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras will welcome walk-ins, with hours extended from 6 to 10 p.m.
Madras, home to about 6,700 people, is expected to be ground zero.
“It is largely considered to be the very best place in the country to watch the eclipse because of geography and weather patterns,” Goodman said.
Hospital staff expect a sixfold increase in patients in the Madras ER around the eclipse.
The hospital will have five physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants on duty at the hospital instead of the usual three. But the hospital has only 25 beds.
That means patients will have to be transported to other hospitals in the area or out of the region and the roads are expected to be clogged.
Usually, two air ambulances serve the area. Two more will be added during the eclipse period, Absalon said. The Oregon Army National Guard also will make a Black Hawk helicopter available to transport patients.
Administrators will open hospital parking lots to staff, allowing them to camp out in their recreational vehicles to be closer to work.
Providers have urged pregnant women due around the eclipse to be prepared but the hospital isn’t altering due dates by inducing labor or doing C-sections
“There will be some instances where people may need to make alternate living arrangements,” Absalon said. “We won’t be delivering babies outside the standard time for delivery.”