PeaceHealth is moving along with its plans to shut down its Sacred Heart Medical Center University District hospital in December. As the Emergency Department begins to transfer nurses to PeaceHealth’s Riverbend Hospital in Springfield, there’s a growing concern in the community for how Eugene is going to function without a hospital this side of the river.
Pressure from the Oregon Nurses Association as well as Mayor Lucy Vinis and Gov. Tina Kotek to delay the closure have forced PeaceHealth to re-examine its plan and come up with solutions to fill the gap left by closing the hospital. While PeaceHealth maintains that the university area hospital will still need to close due to financial reasons, it plans to open an urgent care clinic across the street that will be open from 7 am until midnight as well as keep the inpatient behavioral health services open.
ONA executive board member Kevyn Paul, an ER nurse, says she’s not sure what to make of PeaceHealth’s decision to open the clinic. “My hope is that they open the urgent care before they close the hospital to let them make sure everything runs smoothly,” Paul says. “But I have never worked in an urgent care facility, so I have no idea what that’s going to look like.”
Urgent care clinics are typically used to treat non life-threatening injuries or illnesses, while emergency departments take care of more serious medical issues. The University District Emergency Department is also known to be a safe space for some of Eugene’s most vulnerable populations who are mentally unstable and/or homeless, as reported on in Eugene Weekly’s previous coverage of the impending hospital closure.
Kylie Shorack, an RN at the University District hospital, says the new urgent care is “a bandaid” and “not a solution” to the issues that could arise when the hospital closes. Shorack says because urgent care isn’t used to dealing with emergency situations like the ER, it won’t fill that gap. “We’re approaching respiratory season; you go to an urgent care for a nagging cough but you go to the emergency room when you’re coughing so hard you can’t breathe,” she says.
According to PeaceHealth’s announcement, the organization also plans on opening a new pediatrics clinic at Valley River Center as well as a primary clinic in Pleasant Hill.
EW reached out to PeaceHealth for an interview but was turned down and sent a press release instead. James McGovern, interim chief executive and chief medical officer for PeaceHealth, says in the press release, “We’ve had many productive conversations, both internally and externally, since we announced in August the beginning of a comprehensive process to close the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center, University District hospital network.”
One of Paul’s primary concerns with the new urgent care clinic is its limited hours. Paul cites a statistic from PeaceHealth’s response to the governor that indicates that “43 percent of calls from the emergency department to law enforcement happen between the hours of midnight and 7 am,” Paul says.
Shorack says not having a medical facility open during those hours is especially dangerous in a college town where “college kids are now going to have to drunk-drive their poor friends to RiverBend.” Paul adds that you see a lot more alcohol-related issues in the ER during those hours. Paul says she wonders what’s going to happen if people from out of town show up to the University District hospital in critical condition not knowing the hospital is closed. She also questions how much assistance a new urgent care clinic will be when the current urgent care employs only one nurse on the floor.
Members of the community aren’t convinced that opening these new facilities will be enough to close the gap that the University District hospital filled. ONA and Save Eugene Hospital are hosting a “die-in” protest Friday, Oct. 13, to convey how many lives will be lost without a hospital on this side of the river.
“I can’t say that people aren’t going to die from this decision,” Paul says.