Brookings does not have a hospital. It doesn't have an emergency room. What it does have is an urgent care clinic.

And residents' confusion about which is which is resulting in too many patients showing up at urgent care when they really need an emergency room.

It could be the difference between life and death, hospital officials say.

"Urgent care is like a physician's office for unscheduled visits," said Andrew Bair, CEO of Curry Health Network. "It's for a rolled ankle or an illness that needs to be treated now instead of waiting for three weeks for the next doctor's appointment to become available. It isn't an emergency room though."

On Feb. 20, 12 of the 38 patients seen at urgent care were medical emergencies that required ambulance transport. Bair says this is too much and the clinic is not meant to handle it.

"Our urgent care is being jammed up with people having an emergency," Bair said. "Because of people having an emergency, we are not getting to the people who need urgent care."

While the clinic can stabilize a patient until an ambulance arrives, the clinic is limited in what it can do.

"We can initiate cardiac treatment," Bair said. "But we do not have as much capability as paramedics."

Going to urgent care instead of an emergency room can also delay lifesaving medical procedures. An ambulance may have to stop first at urgent care before heading to a hospital.

Instead of an ambulance bringing a patient directly to the hospital, added time is taken getting the urgent care clinic.

Brookings is the largest community in Oregon without an emergency room or hospital. The closest emergency rooms are at Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach, 25 miles north of Brookings, or Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City, 25 miles south.

City leaders co-signed a letter with Bair in December requesting from state leaders that the city receive an exemption to have an emergency room. But Bair said debate over Cover Oregon in the state legislature has put Brookings' plight on the back burner.

Those needing emergency room attention, such as those having a heart attack or needing surgery, should call 911 for an ambulance or go to an emergency room.