Emily Kroytz, a registered nurse in St. Charles Bend’s intensive care unit, ended a 16-hour shift this week and came home in tears.

Kroytz and the other ICU nurses have not seen this many COVID-19 patients at once in six months. As of Thursday, all 24 beds were full in the ICU, including five patients with the virus. Three of the infected patients are on ventilators.

Another 36 COVID-19 patients were being treated in the hospital.

“It takes an emotional toll,” Kroytz said.

The full capacity in the ICU is due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, but also an increase in patients who put off medical treatment during the pandemic and are now showing up to the emergency room with neglected illnesses. In addition, the hospital is seeing heart attacks and major injuries that will likely increase through the summer.

“We are seeing a lot more suffering,” Kroytz said. “We are seeing patients that need beds.”

Debbie Robinson, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Bend, said the hospital is bringing in available nurses from around the state and nation to help with the overcrowding of patients. Outside of the ICU, all other hospital beds were full Thursday, and 15 people were waiting in the emergency room for beds, Robinson said.

Robinson is encouraging people to stay safe from injury and COVID-19 over Memorial Day weekend, which is traditionally a busy time for the emergency room, she said.

The best way to avoid the virus is to get vaccinated, social distance and wear masks when necessary, Robinson said.

“I want the community to know we are absolutely not behind this pandemic,” Robinson said.

Dr. Louis Davignon, who works in the St. Charles Bend ICU, sees the benefits of getting the vaccine. Since March, 98% of infected patients were not vaccinated, he said.

“And even the (vaccinated) patients that get admitted do much better,” he said.

On Thursday, Davignon monitored one of the COVID-19 patients on a ventilator. Davignon watched as three nurses, a medical assistant and respiratory therapist rotated the unconscious middle-aged man from his stomach to his back.

Rotating patients helps take pressure off of their lungs and allows them to breathe better. In serious COVID-19 cases, the virus hardens the lungs and doesn’t allow oxygen to reach the bloodstream and causes organs to fail, Davignon said.

“If we see that stiffening, then we know we are in trouble,” he said.

Kroytz, who has worked as a nurse since 2001, said the majority of COVID-19 cases recently are from family gatherings that led to multiple family members getting infected, including younger people in their 30s.

For those patients who survive and return home, they can face long-term health issues. They usually feel weak and have difficulty doing regular activities such as mowing a lawn or shopping for groceries, Kroytz said.

“They are exhausted, and their lungs are damaged,” Kroytz said.

The unconscious patient Thursday has been on a ventilator for two weeks. He has stayed in a room that does not allow visitors and requires nurses to wear masks, gloves and full-body suits.

“This patient has not seen a family member since he has been in the ICU,” Kroytz said. “A family member has not been able to touch or see him.”

ICU nurses use iPads to allow family members to see their loved ones. The nurses hold the iPad screen over the patient, who is often not awake, and let the family visit with them.

“A lot of us have had to hold the iPad so they can say goodbye to their loved ones,” Kroytz said.

Having a patient die is always difficult for the nurses, Kroytz said. The ICU nurses work 12- to 16-hour days, three to five days a week. In that time, they grow close with their patients.

“We bond with them,” Kroytz said. “It’s hard to come to work and not see them again.”

Despite the current crisis with capacity at the hospital, Kroytz is optimistic if people continue to get vaccinated. Having the protection of the vaccine has helped the nurses feel safe, she said.

“We feel more confidence because we are vaccinated,” Kroytz said. “It’s encouraging and brings comfort to be vaccinated.”

Reporter: 541-617-7820,

kspurr@bendbulletin.com

(11) comments

Moderate

If you look only at the unvaccinated population in the United States COVID rates are nearly as high as during the peak last winter.

It's unlikely that people who are politically opposed to the vaccine will now choose to receive it.

St Charles ICU serves surrounding rural areas with vaccination rates far below the national and state average.

As a community we need to consider allocating a specific number of ICU beds, ventilators, and (perhaps most importantly) medical personnel for non-COVID related emergencies.

BuckeyeDuck

Allocation of resources as you suggest is done already. It's called "triage". Besides, local officials have no say. The hospital is up against numbers it can't handle appropriately partly due to our growing population, but mostly because of the unvaxxed. Too late at this particular moment for the hospital.

Stoney

I see censorship is alive and well at the Bulletin , very much the same as yahoo.

it goes with the flow and for sure not against the grain of their editors and St Charles board members (follow the money)

BuckeyeDuck

And the particular censorship here is what pray tell.

Stoney

The crowding in Bend could be the funneling by chopper from Madras , Prineville and Redmond to Bend , Admit patients to the outlying hospitals near their homes and families.

Either function as a hospital or learn how to .

Everyone with just a sneeze is helicoptered to Bend, ( it adds to the tab)

They create the crisis and bill you for the fix

BuckeyeDuck

Ah, I see, your comment is the " this is a Dem hoax made up to make MDs and hospitals money". One of those Qbert things.

Stoney

If you dare say anything controversial about the heal system in St Charles your article will not be recognized, They are Saint Charles after all.

Just a side here they in bend are not alone, they have three hospitals and a chopper

BuckeyeDuck

Yep, the system has three hospitals and only a limited number of ICU beds. Thanks to the idjits who aren't vaxxed, refuse to mask up, etc, along with those who have gotten sicker with previous pre ex conditions (remember, they've been staying away from their docs because of the pandemic), we're now overloaded. If everyone helps to cut back C19 then we're not in this position. But noooo, "My freedoms and liberty are taken" are the cries we hear.

BuckeyeDuck

Still not getting what a public health issue such as a pandemic can do to an areas' health resources are you N. No sensationalism here. Just the facts. Let's hope neither of our families is in urgent need of a hospital bed in the near future. BTW, get vaxxed. Your hero and Melania did (secretly though, the putz).

NotaRobot

4 ICU beds and 36 COVID patients in a 243 bed capacity hospital is being overrun??? St Charles continues to cry wolf. St Charles has been at 90+% capacity for years and failed to respond to the surging demand of people moving here. They are “overrun” because of poor planning and opening the floodgates f tourism to try and help the economy recover after the governor has done her best to destroy it. This is a s media sensationalism once again

kindergentlerbend

Let's just focus on the current dire situation. Care providers are exhausted; the region's only medical center is overwhelmed. The least we can do for staff, our neighbors, and ourselves, is lessen the chances of transmission, sickness, and death. This is an extraordinarily horrifying virus that exploits every opportunity we give it to spread and mutate and persist in our lives.

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