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COVID Patient Load Leads Strained Hospital In Klamath Falls To Erect Field Tents

Holly Dillemuth
JPR News
Two tents were erected Friday outside Sky Lakes Medical Center in Klamath Falls to offset the growing number of COVID-19 cases. The tents will begin operating next week to screen incoming patients and as a way to help separate COVID-19 patients from non-COVID-19 patients.

Officials at Sky Lake Medical Center in Klamath Falls have put up a pair of field tents in an adjacent parking lot. The tents are scheduled to begin operating next week as an extension of the medical center’s emergency department, to deal with growing number of COVID-19 patients.

The tents were first installed outside the medical center in March 2020, but were never needed. Now, with 25 COVID patients hospitalized as of 8 a.m. Friday, including three patients receiving intensive care, the tents are needed now, according to Tom Hottman, public information officer for Sky Lakes.

“This will help offload pressure from the main ED (Emergency Department) to take care of more patient flow as well as to separate COVID and non-COVID patients to keep the environment much safer,” Hottman told JPR on Friday.

Hottman said the tents were being outfitted with the proper electricity, heating and cooling, and were being equipped with the technology needed to screen patients.

“It’s up to the workflow on how they’ll be used,” Hottman said. “We want to observe physical distancing so people aren’t stacked one on top of the other, not just for COVID purposes, but because it’s the polite thing to do.

“Projections indicate that we can expect to have at least this level of patients for a long time,” Hottman added. “Some of the models suggest that the numbers could double in two to three weeks.”

Hottman said the COVID patients the approximately 130-bed medical center is seeing are sicker and younger than during the beginning of the pandemic.

“Currently the age range (of COVID-19 patients) is from 30’s to 80’s, with a fair number in their 50’s and 60’s,” Hottman said.

Also on Friday,Sky Lakes had an orientation for more than 20 airmen from the 173rd Air National Guard Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field. The group is part of the National Guard deployment assigned to provide additional help for over-stretched hospitals in Oregon.

Next week, the medical center will also start the week with 48 clinical personnel from around the state to help alleviate strain on the medical center, which has had more than two dozen staff members test positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks.

Hottman said Klamath County has often “lagged” behind neighboring Jackson County and others in the region in terms of COVID-19 patient numbers, but has the potential to catch up.

“Because we don’t have those numbers now doesn’t mean we won’t,” Hottman said.

Sky Lakes updates its COVID-19 patient load on social media accounts, including Twitter, daily.

Hottman said the medical center asks the communities in the Klamath Basin to get vaccinated if they haven’t yet done so, as well as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Holly Dillemuth was JPR's Klamath Basin regional correspondent. She was a staff reporter for the Herald and News in Klamath Falls for over 7 years covering a diverse range of topics, including city government, higher education and business.