“Surrounded” by death: Oregon hospital packed with COVID patients

“Every day we see just the body boxes roll out one after the other and then as soon as we clean the room we get somebody back in there… It’s the worst we’ve ever seen.”

That’s what ICU nurse Clarissa Carson told CBS News’ Janet Shamlian Wednesday at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, Oregon, where COVID-19 patients have filled the hospital.

Shamlian reported constant turnover in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but not because patients are getting better.

“We have patients waiting to get onto life support,” ICU Dr. Somnath Ghosh said. The turnaround is so rapid, it’s pretty sad.”

Carson said relatives used to be able to stay in rooms to grieve after loved ones passed as long as they wanted. Now, they have to be out in less than an hour so another COVID patient waiting down the hall can get in.

There’s only one ICU bed available in the entire region.

Coronavirus hotspots have been popping up in the South for weeks, but communities in other parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest, are also suffering amid the latest surge. 

Hospitalizations in Oregon hit a record high on Wednesday. ICU beds are at 93% capacity statewide.

Oregon’s governor has deployed National Guard members to 20 hospitals, and many health systems have canceled elective surgeries.

“These patients are on such tremendous levels of life support,” Ghosh told Shamlian. “Once we stop that, they last less than a few minutes.”

Suffering and sorrow are now part of every day.

“I’ve never seen so much death in my career,” ICU manager Kelsea Robinson said. “We’re surrounded by it.”

Robinson said she’s frustrated by vaccine hesitancy.

Wednesday night, hundreds protested vaccines outside the hospital. Many said they were hospital staffers.

“Our community is getting ripped apart by the people who don’t believe in the vaccine,” Carson said. 

Most of the patients in the intensive care unit Shamlian visited were unvaccinated. Every patient except one was on a ventilator.

According to Carson, the patients are so sick that the odds are against survival.

“The grief is tremendous,” Carson said. “We are used to winning. Us ICU nurses, we’re used to winning and we’re not winning. We’re losing.”

And there will be more loss — what some are calling collateral deaths. Ghosh said they have put off at least 100 heart surgeries over the past two months because there’s no room for those cardiac patients at the hospital, no resources right now.

Some of those patients, he said, will likely die.