Clinician Alert: Emergency Departments, Emergency response report rise in visits, calls

January 11, 2017

Since mid-December, 2016, Portland Metro area hospital in-patient units and emergency departments have been unusually busy. Consequently, patients are encountering prolonged waits for non-urgent conditions in Emergency Departments. Snowfall on January 10-11 further complicated access by slowing patient, healthcare staff, and ambulance transportation. To decrease the burden of lower acuity patients on Portland Metro Emergency Departments, clinicians should consider the following:

  • Increase telephone consultation options for primary care patients
  • Increase clinic and urgent care access for patients with acute conditions
  • Continue to promote influenza vaccine for all patients over age 6 months


Local hospital and emergency department medical directors have identified several factors potentially contributing to the current situation. The timing of weather events and holiday weekends may have caused demand for medical attention to build. Most hospitals currently have a higher than normal in-patient census which causes delays in admissions, resulting in prolonged patient stays in emergency departments. The weather events and the early arrival of a worse than usual influenza season have delayed or prevented some in-patient discharges to private homes or skilled nursing facilities.

Finally, the same early influenza season is contributing to high demand for emergency department care while also making staff ill, straining the healthcare workforce.

The CDC reports that the 2016 flu vaccine is a good match for the isolates analyzed to date however, true vaccine efficacy is not usually established until later in the spring. Vaccination remains the most important measure to prevent influenza and is recommended for everyone over age 6 months including all healthcare workers.

Clackamas County Public Health: 503-655-8411
Multnomah County Public Health: 503-988-3406       
Washington County Public Health: 503-846-3594