Providence Health & Services has shut down a unit of its Northeast Portland hospital after a major COVID-19 outbreak that has led to 49 staffers and patients contracting the virus.
The outbreak, the largest to date at a metro-area hospital in the Portland area, is believed to have begun around Dec. 20 and was centered in the hospital’s 4-k unit. That is not a a COVID unit, but rather treats patients who are stable but in need of ongoing, intense care, like stroke and traumatic brain injury victims.
Providence spokesman Gary Walker confirmed the outbreak took place and added that 36 hospital workers and 13 patients contracted the virus. None of them have died and most were asymptomatic or were only mildly ill, Walker said.
Jeremy Shipley, a five-year veteran registered nurse worked in the 4-k unit and contracted the virus. He’s recovering and is scheduled to return to work this weekend. But it’s also been devastating, he said, to catch COVID despite his meticulous attention to safety.
“I’ve been a champion of personal protection and caution,” he said. “I feel overwhelming shame that I was the one on our staff who went down.”
Some Oregon hospitals have been hit hard by the virus. A total of 158 staff and patients have contracted COVID at Salem Hospital since June. Another 87 have been infected at Good Shepherd Hospital in Hermiston since last summer. Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg has reported 61 COVID cases since last summer.
Early this month, PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver suffered a 29-person outbreak.
This latest outbreak is the fourth at a Providence facility since November and by far the largest.
The last positive test connected to this latest outbreak was on Dec. 31. No new cases tied to this outbreak have been identified since then, Walker said.
All but one of the patients who tested positive for COVID has since been discharged or are in the process of being discharged. One patient is still being treated for non-COVID related conditions.
The outbreak highlights once again the dissatisfaction of some Providence staffers with the giant health system’s policies on testing and notification. Providence, a multibillion-dollar operation, has declined to test all of its healthcare workers, as some medical centers have. Rather, it will test workers who are exhibiting symptoms.
Providence nurse Brian Swain works in Providence Portland’s so-called float pool, which means he can be assigned wherever needed. Swain didn’t work directly in 4K, where the outbreak was centered and he’s not gotten sick. But he knows he’s potentially been exposed because he’s worked with more than one Providence staffer who had spent time on 4k.
And yet, Swain said Providence won’t spring for a COVID test until if and when he starts having symptoms.
“There’s this constant pressure and paranoia,” Swain said. “You can never be sure you’re OK. My biggest fear is that I take this virus home to my family.”
Providence’s Walker pointed out that the health system proactively tested 217 caregivers who either worked on the unit or came into contact with patients from the unit. Of that group, 36 caregivers tested positive.
As of today, 24 of the 36 have returned to work.
Shipley, like Swain, is an active member of the Oregon Nurses Association. The union has been advocating for broader and quicker testing of Providence staff.
Shipley said he first heard about it the outbreak on Dec. 21. That same day, he began feeling symptoms and left work.
Providence evacuated the unit two days later. The hospital intends to deep-clean the unit, Walker said.
In hopes of protecting his roommate from the virus, Shipley got a room at the Red Lion Hotel at Jantzen Beach. He remained isolated and quarantined for 10 days.
Employees who go on leave due to catching COVID or exposure to the virus get 24 hours of paid time. After that, they’re on their own.
Shipley said Providence has advised him to file a workers compensation for the rest of the time he couldn’t work.
Providence initially resisted paying his hotel bill, according to Shipley, but he said the hospital notified him Friday that it will pay.