A spike in weather-related injuries and the return of flu season has turned an overcrowding problem at St. Charles Bend into a near-crisis situation.

St. Charles Bend admits on average 115 patients per day, but has experienced several days this year with about 10 patients more than average.

“We haven’t seen huge numbers,” said Michelle Brenholdt, director of emergency services for St. Charles Bend and Redmond. “But what we have seen is a lot more patients requiring admission to the hospital and our inpatient units are full.”

With a shortage of empty beds, the hospital has struggled to move patients out of the emergency room, causing a back log and long wait times. On Monday, the average wait time for E.R. patients reached five hours.

“Because we’re full to begin with, especially on the Bend campus with our inpatient beds, it take us longer to transition to patients that need to be admitted from the emergency room to the inpatient setting,” said Julie Ostrom, director of patient care services in Bend and Redmond.

“It creates a drain clog.”

St. Charles Bend usually admits about 21 percent of the patients who come to the emergency room, but so far in January, that has risen to 23 percent. Some of that has been a return of more normal numbers of flu patients, after a light flu season last winter.

But the recent winter weather has brought more slip and fall cases than ever before. Last year, through the first 25 days of 2016, the emergency room treated 182 falls. This year, there have been 247 cases.

In a single day last week, the E.R. saw 19 hip fractures, mostly from people slipping on the ice. Staff believe it’s a single-day record for the hospital.

On Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m., the 31 patient rooms in the E.R. were full, with an additional five patients placed in beds in the hallway. Three ambulances were parked in the outdoor bay, as EMTs wheeled more patients inside.

The backlog has forced hospital staff to devote extra time to getting patients out of the hospital to other appropriate settings. Patients who live in Redmond who have conditions that are appropriately treated at St. Charles Redmond might be transferred to that hospital. Other patients may be transferred to rehab facilities or skilled nursing facilities, or home to complete their recovery.

“One of the barriers of moving people through the continuum is arranging transportation for folks,” Ostrom said. During the worst of the storms, the hospital faced significant challenges in getting patients to other settings. Patients who aren’t expecting to be admitted to the hospital from the E.R. often have not arranged for transportation home once they’re ready for discharge.

Hospital staff stressed that they did not want to discourage anyone from coming to the E.R. but suggested that patients with nonemergency cases could also consider urgent care facilities. St. Charles has Immediate Care Clinics on its hospital campus in Bend and at its new facility in south Bend, near Wal-mart. Bend Memorial Clinic also runs urgent care clinics at multiple locations, and a spokeswoman indicated while the clinics have been busy, wait times are not any longer than usual for this time of year. Family Care Urgent Care Clinic, in the Market of Choice plaza, is also now open and seeing patients.

Those facilities generally close around 7 or 8 p.m. on weeknights and earlier on weekends leaving the emergency room as the sole option for after-hours emergency care.

Dr. Gillian Salton, an emergency physician in Bend, urged people to come to the ER if they believe they are experiencing a medical problem that cannot wait.

“If you think this is something scary in terms of hours or days, come and see us,” she said. “If this is something that’s been going on for six months and now is just a good time to get it checked out, there are other places to get it checked out.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7814, mhawryluk@bendbulletin.com

(Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misspelled Dr. Gillian Salton’s name. The Bulletin regrets the error.)