Hospitals announce staffing changes and temporary morgues as COVID cases surge in Oregon

As COVID-19 cases in Oregon continue to surge, Portland hospitals are setting up temporary morgues and instituting staffing changes to deal with the corresponding influx of patients.

As of Tuesday, there were 553 COVID-positive patients in Oregon hospitals. The previous bump in hospitalizations, which occurred over the summer, peaked at 168 COVID hospitalizations. The number of COVID-positive patients in ICU beds in Oregon hospitals has also peaked with 127 patients as of Tuesday.


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To help address the surge, last week Legacy Health announced new measures to expand staffing capacity for inpatient care within its facilities. The changes include decreasing documentation burden, reducing non-urgent procedures, and the extension of incentives for extra shifts. Legacy Health also announced the redeployment of surgical interventional services staff to in-patient care areas, and the redeployment of non-direct care R.N.s to other roles.

“As the COVID-19 case count continues to rise across the region, the number of patients seeking care at our facilities, both for COVID-19 and other conditions, continues to strain our staffing resources. This surge in patients is expected to continue through at least the end of December. We recognize this situation poses a hardship for our staff and providers, requiring incredibly hard work under tough circumstances. We are grateful for the work they do every day to provide the care our patients need,” said Legacy Health.

Oregon Health & Science University, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, and PeachHealth have also put in place limits on elective and non-urgent surgeries.

In addition to the growing number of hospitalizations, Oregon is also seeing an increase in the number of COVID-related deaths. According to tracking by the New York Times, one month ago the 7-day average of daily COVID deaths in Oregon was 6. The 7-day average now sits at 21.

Legacy Health recently announced its intent to bring in temporary morgues at Legacy Good Samaritan and Legacy Mount Hood medical centers.

“To safely respond to the COVID-19 surge this winter, health systems across the region are implementing plans to prepare for an expected increase in deaths and related delays in pick-ups from funeral homes and mortuaries that are also busy right now,” reads a statement from Legacy Health. “Legacy’s System EOC has been preparing for this possibility since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. This week, the EOC activated its plan. On Monday, refrigerated semi-truck trailers will arrive at Legacy Good Samaritan and Legacy Mount Hood medical centers and are expected to remain on site for several months. We selected these sites due to their limited on-site morgue capacity and the volume of COVID-19 cases. The arrival of temporary morgues is an unfortunate public reminder of the pandemic’s impact on our communities.”

Similarly, Providence announced at the end of November it would set up emergency surge tents and park morgue trailers outside of Providence St. Vincent and Providence Portland medical centers.

“Providence has made many changes to our services these past months to plan for and care for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19,” said Providence in a statement. “Though treatments have improved and more patients are surviving COVID-19, we need to extend our limited morgue capacity so that we can respectfully handle all patients who die.”