Markian Hawryluk
The Bulletin

A virulent strain of the flu has filled the emergency room at St. Charles Bend to capacity, forcing the hospital system to cancel surgeries and divert patients to other hospitals.

Hospital officials said the emergency room typically treats about 120 patients on any given Monday but saw 150 patients this past Monday and admitted 30 of those patients to the hospital.

Michelle Brenholdt, the director of St. Charles Bend’s emergency services and trauma program, said many patients admitted to the hospital are staying longer than usual and that is causing a backlog into the ER.

“We’re still able to take care of sick patients and critical patients, but it’s a really good time to remind people where to go for care,” she said. “If you have serious signs and symptoms, certainly we want you to come here, but if you can get to an urgent care or your doctor’s office for less serious things, then certainly that’s the best place.”

St. Charles Bend has 32 emergency room beds, and as of Wednesday afternoon, 22 were filled by patients waiting to be admitted to an inpatient room.

“We have nine beds in the hallways where we’re trying to help move people along, which is not optimal, and it’s not fun for anybody, but it works,” said Dr. Bill Reed, an emergency room physician at the hospital.

Reed said doctors are seeing more flu patients than normal who are having trouble breathing and need to be admitted and put on oxygen.

The hospital has diverted some patients to St. Charles Redmond, which in turn is sending some of its patients to hospitals in Madras and Prineville.

“Oftentimes we’ll transfer patients to Portland when we lack capacity, and the Portland hospitals are all full too. There’s up to a three-day wait to get a bed,” Brenholdt said. “We have even tried to get patients to Boise, and they’re full too.”

Reed said the flu is also putting pressure on emergency medical services. The Bend Fire Department, which typically handles about 25 calls a day, responded to 50 calls Monday.

“There were multiple occasions where all of the five active ambulances were on calls or at the ER,” Reed said. “There was one point where all five were at the ER unloading patients, and we’re still taking dispatch calls.”

Sisters Fire and Rescue has helped alleviate the crunch, taking additional calls and transporting patients to Redmond.

The Bend hospital treated an increased number of slip-and-fall injuries during the major snowfall two weeks ago and has treated patients who fell off ladders trying to clear their roofs of snow. But injuries have now given way to illness as the main complaint.

The solution to the hospital’s capacity woes lies tantalizingly close. St. Charles is scheduled to open its new tower on May 19, adding a 24-bed intensive care unit and a 28-bed step-down unit — for patients in between intensive care and a traditional hospital room. That would be more than enough to alleviate the current crunch.

Hospital officials are closely watching their ICU capacity, which Brenholdt described as “tight” but still good.

“We understand that over in Portland, they don’t have capacity, and they’re our back-up,” she said. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we’ve used our last ICU bed and we don’t have capacity.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2162,