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ONTARIO – Local residents who seek COVID-19 virus testing should call their primary care provider instead of going to the emergency room at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario.

“It is important to utilize primary care and urgent care to triage in order to keep the ER available for true emergencies,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.

The hospital also recently canceled or delayed scheduled procedures, a move that will free up personnel to meet a surge of COVID-19 cases. Minor screenings, such as breast cancer checks, are still available.

The change regarding procedures will also help the hospital preserve its supplies. At the moment, the hospital is well-stocked with equipment and other materials, said Poe.

“They have enough for what they need now. They are doing daily inventory and planning ahead for possible shortages later,” said Poe.

Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario is a 49-bed hospital, including six beds in its intensive care unit. Ten of the 49 beds are allocated to the hospital’s maternity ward. Five of the beds at the hospital are negative pressure rooms, where air can flow into the room but not escape.

The hospital employs about 400 people.

The hospital is part of the Saint Alphonsus Health System and can rely on other hospitals across the region to help it overcome a surge in COVID-19 cases, said Poe.

“If they had more active COVID-19 cases than they had the capacity for, they would find more beds in partner systems. All hospitals are planning ahead for overflow patients,” said Poe.

Hospitals are expected to be the epicenter for the COVID-19 virus crisis. Last week, state modeling revealed Oregon will need an extra 1,000 beds and 400 intensive care unit beds to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The hospital is conducting COVID-19 screenings now but questions regarding travel are “less and less a factor as we have community spread in every state,” said Poe.

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Questions are posted at all entrance points to the hospital, said Poe, and individuals entering the facility must answer three questions before they are given a sticker that allows them to enter.

Last week, the Saint Alphonsus Health System modified several of its restrictions.

The health system, with facilities in eastern Oregon, and Idaho, suspended all routine visitors to its hospitals. There are exceptions for certain patient groups, such as pediatrics, maternity for the birth of a child, neonatal intensive care, patients in intensive care units, medical interpreters and end –of-life care.

Visitors must not exhibit respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, or congestion or have a fever above 100.4. There is a limit of one visitor per patient at a time and no visitors under 18 are allowed.

Saint Alphonsus Health System also set up a COVID-19 Hotline at 208 302-2683. The line will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Residents can also seek medical advice using MyeVisit online urgent care – a service staffed by Saint Alphonsus providers. Go to www.myevisit.org for a virtual visit with a medical professional.

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