SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — When was the last time Salem had a half-million people drop in to visit?
That’s what’s expected when the total solar eclipse darkens Salem on August 21. Hospitals in the area have to plan for what they expect to happen in an event they’ve never before experienced.
The tidal wave of humanity is bound to test Salem Hospital. Day-to-day, they already have the busiest emergency room between Seattle and Los Angeles.
Because of that, they are ramping up in some departments and ramping down in others while adding 15% more staff to the emergency area.
Emergency Preparedness Director Wayne McFarlin told KOIN 6 News they’ll set up an indoor emergency operations center next Wednesday. Outside, the emergency department is also setting up 3 disaster tents with air conditioning, electricity and all the support they’ll need to provide patient care.
Elective surgical services are being dialed back that week to free up resources.
McFarlin said they expect to start seeing impact from the eclipse early next week.
“As we look at the numbers throughout the week, we’ll make adjustments,” McFarlin said. “Our inpatient unit is being staffed to expect a full house, recognizing that could bump up 10 to 20%. We’re contracting with traveling nurses, we’re posting overtime schedules that our own regular staff will be signing up for, so we want to make sure we’ve got the staff to meet those needs.”
He also said Salem Hospital is partnering with hospitals in the 6-county region, updating their hospital capacity websites so each knows what’s available and where.
South of Salem, Samaritan Health is going through the same thing. They have 5 hospitals in the path of totality, from Lincoln City to Corvallis and are preparing in much the same way: stockpiling supplies, cancelling elective procedures and closing non-necessary clinics.
Joe Hutchinson, the emergency manager for the Samaritan Health System, told KOIN 6 News, “We have our staff sleeping arrangements taken care of.”
“We’ll use that staffing group to help cover down on our open urgent care clinics,” Hutchinson said. “We’ll have 18 clinics within our system open.”
Crews are fighting fire with fire in the Mt. Jefferson wilderness with controlled burns near Highway 22 to get rid of possible fuel for the Whitewater Fire. Firefighters hope by purposely burning parts of the wilderness now, it will reduce the danger and smoky skies during the solar eclipse on August 21.
“By the time the eclipse comes around, the smoke issues will be reduced,” said Grady McMahn, district ranger for Detroit, Oregon.
Marion County leaders said they don’t expect Hwy 22 to be closed because of the fire during the eclipse. But they said the closer you are to Detroit, the less likely you are to be to see the eclipse.
“So many different variables, the weather at the coast, the impact of the Whitewater Fire and the other weather here in the valley,” Marion County emergency manager Ed Flick said.
— Eileen Park, KOIN 6 News