St. Charles

An entrance of St. Charles Bend, one of four hospitals in Central Oregon operated by St. Charles Health System.

St. Charles Health System, the hospital for eight Oregon counties when it comes to high level of care, has reached an all-time high of 29 patients with COVID-19, placing a stress on beds and caregivers.

On Monday, 17 of the hospital’s 24 intensive care unit beds were occupied, said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles Health System chief physician executive, in an interview. Two of those patients were being treated for COVID-19, the rest of the patients with the virus were on medical floors.

St. Charles Bend, the main hospital for treatment of COVID-19, has 24 intensive care rooms and St. Charles Redmond has six.

The hospital has already taken steps to cancel, or postpone, some elective surgeries to keep bed capacity manageable and to manage staffing requirements. Canceling surgeries is part of the hospital’s surge plan and helps the hospital manage its staffing needs, Absalon said. About 90 caregivers are out on leave because they either tested positive or have been exposed to COVID-19, Absalon said.

With cases surging for the past two weeks, health officials are bracing for a surge in hospitalizations that generally occur two weeks later. In addition, workplace outbreaks and cases at long-term care facilities have burgeoned.

“This is a significant increase in the number of patients,” Absalon said. “It’s at a level that stress our system at this time. We’re increasing capacity by decreasing elective surgeries.”

As the regional hospital for Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake and Wheeler counties, St. Charles has seen a steady rise in hospitalizations over the past seven days.

“It is important to realize that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, and that unless daily case counts begin to go down, increased pressure on the hospital system is inevitable,” said Becky Hultberg, Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems president and CEO. “That’s why we’re starting to see in Central Oregon what we’ve already seen in the (Portland) Metro Area — more hospitalizations and a greater strain on providers who are already stretched thin.”

The number of COVID-19 patients in the St. Charles hospital region went from 12 on Nov. 21 to 31 on Friday, according to data provided by the Oregon Health Authority. The regional hospitals in Multnomah, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and Washington counties saw a 31.7% increase over the same period.

“The rest of the state has seen an escalating number of cases, and we’ve been behind the majority in the state,” Absalon said. “What you’re seeing now is that we’re on the same pathway. Twenty-nine patients is a dramatic increase for us.”

While the higher cases often means more hospitalizations, Absalon said that the community needs to double down on its use of masks, maintaining a 6-foot physical distance from others, frequently wash hands and stay home when ill.

On Monday, state health officials reported 54 new COVID-19 cases in Deschutes County, bringing the total to 2,422 positive or presumptive cases, according to health data. Nearly 50,000 people in Deschutes County have been tested for COVID-19 as of Monday, according to the data.

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Gary A. Warner contributed to this report.

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(1) comment


As predicted for the last few months. Human nature never really changes. We may get smarter but that doesn't translate into doing what is right for ourselves or our community. Now we are going to see the true outcome of our selfish behaviour.

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