Providence Portland, St. Vincent add temporary morgues

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'Increase in deaths directly related to COVID patients admitted into hospital'

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Temporary morgues are in place at two Providence Health facilities in Portland because there isn’t enough room in their hospital morgues.

The ‘fatality management trucks’ will be at Providence Portland and Providence St. Vincent. Hospital morgues can only hold less than 10 deceased people.

At this time there are 189 COVID patients being treated at the 8 Providence hospitals. Of those 168 are unvaccinated. Of the 53 patients in ICU, 49 are unvaccinated.

Jennifer Gentry, the Regional Chief Nursing Officer at Providence, told KOIN 6 News there is not enough space within the walls of the hospital to store the people who die.

“Unfortunately the increase in the deaths we’re seeing and the need for capacity is directly related to the COVID patients that are admitted into the hospital,” Gentry said.

All their campuses are full daily, she said. “The delta variant just creates a level of illness and acuity that we didn’t see necessarily with the first strain that we were working with.”

Gentry said they’ve added an additional 20 beds for critical patients at the 2 campuses, “and that volume is primarily for COVID patients.”

“Fatality management trucks,” aka temporary morgues, arrived at Providence Hospital in Portland during a COVID spike from the delta variant, September 3, 2021 (KOIN)

“We don’t typically see enough deaths to warrant the morgue trucks, so to be a part of experiencing that ,to spend so much time doing everything you can to save an individual to get them back to their family and their lives, and then it not coming to fruition in the end is very traumatic for anyone who’s caring for the patients,” she said.

Gentry said the emotional and physical toll has some caregivers quitting, experiencing levels of trauma and burnout they’ve never seen before.

“I use that word trauma specifically because it’s very traumatic to have a need even for one of the morgue trucks. That means that they’re seeing a higher number of deaths than we would normally see in the hospital, and so that’s very traumatic.”

All the caregivers are struggling with fatigue, she said.

“Really the amount of time we’ve had to live in this space is just wearing on everybody,” she said. “We’ve had nurses leave the workforce. We’ve had a lot of caregivers that just, they can’t do it anymore. They’re very tired so they’re leaving the workforce.”

Providence announced they are giving a $1000 bonus to 23,000 employees in Oregon. They are also offering referral bonuses to help with recruitment and said they have sign-on bonuses too.

Providence said they are also using 30 additional Oregon National Guard members at Providence Portland, bringing the total to 120. There will be a total of 110 National Guard members at Providence St. Vincent.

Starting this weekend, there will be 32 service members at Providence Newberg, 26 at Providence Milwaukie, 24 at Providence Willamette Falls and 13 at Providence Seaside.

Vaccinations and wearing masks are what will get us back to normal life, she said — and ensure our healthcare system can survive the pandemic.

“People are still having heart attacks, they’re having strokes, they have illness or injuries and we need to ensure that our hospitals have that space and capacity to take care of all the patient needs, not just with COVID. So it’s really important that we’re masking and everybody’s getting vaccinated that possibly can.”

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