By Tara Bannow

The Bulletin


Between Aug. 16 and 23, the following St. Charles clinics will offer walk-in appointments and will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.:

• St. Charles Immediate Care East, 2600 NE Neff Road in Bend

• St. Charles Family Care Redmond, 211 NW Larch Ave. in Redmond

• St. Charles Family Care Prineville, 384 SE Combs Flat Road in Prineville

• St. Charles Family Madras, 480 NE A Street in Madras

NOWcare, an urgent care clinic for musculoskeletal injuries operated by The Center Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research in Bend, will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug. 20. It is located inside The Center at 2200 NE Neff Road in Bend

St. Charles Health System is projecting a sixfold increase in patients at its Madras hospital in the eight-day period surrounding the Aug. 21 eclipse — a spike so large it scheduled extra doctors and helicopters and got the OK to house patients in conference rooms.

To prepare, the 25-bed hospital will have two additional medical doctors, nurse practitioners or physician assistants on staff at all times, bumping the total number to five.

The health system is also summoning about 40 nurses from outside of the region and canceling elective surgeries between Aug. 16 and 23 to free up space and staff.

“We’re excited about it,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician executive. “We want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and obviously planning a lot.”

St. Charles is planning for an unprecedented 280,000 visitors to the region, Absalon said. Other estimates have placed the number of visitors around 200,000. Madras is expected to host the majority of them, but St. Charles also expects triple the typical number of patients at its Prineville hospital and up to double the amount in Bend.

To handle the anticipated spike in demand for walk-in appointments, St. Charles will temporarily turn its primary care clinics into urgent care clinics, including St. Charles Family Care in Madras, between Aug. 16 and 23. During that time, those clinics and its Immediate Care clinic on Bend’s east side will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

St. Charles hospitals frequently operate at capacity, so Absalon said the health system expects it will need to send patients elsewhere during the eclipse — either from Madras to Redmond or Bend or outside of Central ­Oregon entirely.

“That’s been a big part of our planning is understanding how we’re going to move people around in Central Oregon, as well as moving people out when that part is necessary, as well,” he said.

The region will have two additional helicopters available to transport patients at St. Charles’ four hospitals and to hospitals outside Central Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown also has called in the National Guard, which will supply a Black Hawk helicopter that will be available for medical emergencies, as well, Absalon said.

Community organizations also pooled money to bring in additional ambulances for the event.

To ensure there will be enough staff before, during and after the eclipse, St. Charles placed a freeze on time off. Each emergency room will have additional physicians and other providers working at all times.

Another concern is whether there will be enough space for more patients. Patients are frequently boarded in the emergency room at St. Charles Bend when the hospital’s beds are full. To ensure the hospitals have flexibility in the event patients can’t be transferred, Absalon said the Oregon Health Authority approved a waiver that will allow St. Charles to put patients in areas like recovery and medical diagnostics, or even in conference rooms.

“For some of the triage and holding of overflow, we may be able to use those for that,” he said.

The waiver is effective until the end of the month.

Pregnant women whose due dates fall on or around the eclipse should contact their doctors to discuss a plan in the event there are traffic challenges, Absalon said. Some people might even need to stay outside the area during the event, he said.

The Center Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care & Research in Bend will extend the hours of its urgent care clinic, NOWcare, inside its east Bend clinic at 2200 NE Neff Road. NOWcare, which is typically open Monday through Friday, will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19 and Sunday, Aug. 20.

NOWcare treats musculoskeletal injuries, which is anything related to the muscles, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments or tissues. The clinic also handles concussion evaluations.

Mike Gonsalves, The Center’s CEO, said he hopes opening NOWcare will ease some of the burden on other clinics.

“If urgent care facilities start getting overwhelmed, they might push the bone-related issues our way and triage them out to us,” he said. “The regular urgent cares just see everything, so we can at least take the musculoskeletals off their hands.”

Unlike St. Charles, The Center’s outpatient surgery facility, the Cascade Surgicenter, is not canceling surgeries on or around the eclipse. Gonsalves said that’s because people planning major procedures like hip or knee replacements usually want to get them over with. Most of the appointments scheduled for Aug. 21 are for people who live nearby, he said.

Like The Center, Bend Memorial Clinic also will be largely business as usual before and during the eclipse, said Nate Starr, BMC’s director of facilities. BMC’s three urgent care clinics will stay open an hour later — until 5 p.m. — on the Saturday and Sunday before the eclipse.

On Aug. 21, a handful of departments, such as endocrinology, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and allergy will close at some locations, but appointments for primary care and most other specialties are still on, Starr said.

Dr. Patricia Buehler, an ophthalmic surgeon with InFocus Eye Care in Bend, said it’s rare for people to burn their retinas from looking at the sun too long directly before and after an eclipse. If it does happen, people will likely notice blurred vision, the inability to see for a while and then a central blind spot in the middle of both eyes.

If that’s the case, Buehler does not recommend people go to the emergency room, as doctors can’t do anything to treat the condition, called solar retinopathy.

She does recommend seeing an eye doctor within a week or two to determine whether it’s a burn.

Otherwise, Buehler said it’s best to save the emergency room for true emergencies.

“If they do have damage, they don’t need to see anyone urgently for that because there is no treatment,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0304,