Metro areas residents urged to seek primary care services for non-urgent heat illnesses, use hospitals only when necessary

PORTLAND, Ore.—Three successive days of historic heat in the Portland Metro area have led to high demand on hospital emergency departments and beds in the region due to a recent surge in heat-related illnesses.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) urges people to contact their primary care provider if they begin to experience heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, heat rash or other non-emergent medical care needs.

Since June 25, Portland-area hospitals have recorded 506 heat-related emergency and urgent care visits, based on preliminary data. Yesterday alone, hospitals reported 251 visits due to heat.

As a result, beds at hospital systems in the Region 1 hospital system serving Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties are in critically short supply. Regional health providers are working together to manage beds, but they need help from the public.

“The extreme temperatures we have experienced over four successive days can lead to serious health complications, and we are now seeing the resulting demand for emergency services provided by our hospitals,” said Dr. Dana Hargunani, chief medical officer for OHA. “Right now we are asking the public to treat potential heat-related illnesses as serious, but work with healthcare providers in non-emergency settings when appropriate who can address these conditions to ensure capacity remains available for regional ED services.”

Persons who do not need urgent medical care are encouraged to seek care from their primary care physicians, medical homes and other on-demand health providers. People who live in Multnomah County but who don’t have a primary care doctor can call 503-988-5558 for a referral. Washington County residents without a primary care doctor can call the county’s healthcare resource line at 503-846-8851. Clackamas County residents who do not have a primary care provider and would like to establish care, call 503-655-8471 (Clackamas County Health Centers); for other non-emergency needs, call 2-1-1.

Hospital capacity in all Metro-area facilities remains limited. Statewide, other systems are also reporting similar surge demands that have strained EMS systems.

People with chronic medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to the heat, especially people with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer or kidney disease. People with these conditions may be less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Medications can worsen the impact of extreme heat.

OHA encourages everyone to drink enough water, seek access to air conditioning and know how to keep cool.

While parts of western Oregon and the Portland Metro region have seen the forecast for high temperatures drop to the 90s for today, an excessive heat warning remains in effect through this weekend for much of eastern and central Oregon and Washington, according to National Weather Service, with high temperatures expected to hit 110  and 120 throughout the affected regions.

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