By Tara Bannow

The Bulletin

Within 15 minutes of announcing a lockdown Tuesday night at St. Charles Bend ahead of a potential confrontation between law enforcement and armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a hospital spokeswoman received more than 50 phone calls.

Over the course of the night, more than 30 people gathered at the hospital to see what happened.

Such illustrates the massive amount of attention the refuge occupation has garnered over the past several weeks.

St. Charles administrators called the lockdown about a half-hour after receiving Harney District Hospital’s request to send a helicopter their way in the event of injuries during a confrontation with militants. Hospital administrators quickly realized the potential for chaos to erupt if someone involved was brought to the Bend hospital.

“If it would have been one of the potential leaders that came here, that could draw a crowd if they wanted to assess his or her injuries,” Todd Shields, St. Charles Health System’s director of outreach and support service, said Wednesday.

Lockdowns, put in place to keep patients and staff safe from potential threats, are not altogether uncommon for St. Charles — it announces between five and seven per year. But the lockdowns typically don’t last through the night like this one did. More commonly, the hospital is locked down because a patient threatens to harm a caregiver, said Lisa Goodman, a St. Charles spokeswoman.

“I know this is a very high-profile event, but the reality is we go on lockdown not infrequently,” she said. “It’s just something we do to make sure that our patients and our caregivers are safe.”

The specific rules on who can enter and leave the hospital vary depending on the situation, Shields said.

In this case, visitors were not allowed to enter the hospital, although patients, visitors and staff could exit as they wished, Shields said. The emergency room remained open to patients throughout the lockdown. In this particular case, Shields said providers, staff members and law enforcement officers were able to enter and exit the hospital, but that may not be the case for other lockdowns.

St. Charles Bend is the nearest Level II Trauma Center to Harney County, where armed militants continue to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. A Level II hospital can provide care for patients regardless of how serious their injuries are. Harney District Hospital, while only 32 miles from the refuge, is a small hospital that’s not equipped to treat severe trauma patients.

When law enforcement officials informed St. Charles just after 8 p.m. they would not be sending anyone from Harney County to the Bend hospital, administrators decided the lockdown would remain in place throughout the evening, given the fluid nature of the situation at the refuge, Shields said.

The decision to remain in lockdown through the night was made around 8:45 p.m., and most of the hospital’s doors — with the exception of the emergency room — automatically lock at 9 p.m.

“So we didn’t think it was going to be that impactful to normal operations,” Shields said.

Hospital policy is that department leaders inform their staff members, whether that’s by phone call, text message or email, of the lockdown. Doctors receive automated text messages, and all staff members receive emails. In this case, no additional staff members had to be called in, Shields said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0304,