Central Oregon hospital still struggling with COVID hospitalizations

COVID-19 cases and deaths are generally declining in Oregon, but some hospitals are encountering COVID numbers similar to January. St. Charles Bend Hospital, in particular,  is being hit hard with new cases of mainly unvaccinated people. 


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Dr. Jeff Absalon, executive vice president and chief physician executive at St. Charles Health System, says:

“Although in many places, it appears that we’re getting closer to the end of this pandemic, we are still very much in the thick of things here in central Oregon.”

Oregon’s current mask policy requires unvaccinated people to wear masks in public while vaccinated people can go without a mask in businesses that are checking vaccination status.


Image: Oregon Health Authority


Absalon says he’s confused as to why these new guidelines were released now due to the continued high hospitalization rates in central Oregon. The lifting of these mandates does not reflect the reality of the COVID problem within the area. 

There are 30-40 COVID cases at all times at St. Charles, says Absalon, and 98% of those cases are not fully vaccinated. Central Oregon represents 5.9% of the population but has 13.6% of the state’s occupied COVID beds. 

Of those cases, the average age of patients with COVID dropped by 13 years due to the successful campaigns to vaccinate the elderly in Oregon, according to Absalon.

This graph shows the change in the average age of hospital admission for COVID.

Image: St. Charles Health System


In the short term, elective surgeries have been greatly limited due to workforce shortages and internal guidelines to keep the workers and patients safe.  

At St. Charles, capacity is a challenge. They are using units and beds that are not for COVID or viral illnesses to serve everyone they can. 

“Our health system has been stressed. We have been at capacity, at time over capacity, over the course of the last several weeks on several occasions. This is a challenge for us to care for everybody when they need us.”

To assist their workforce, St. Charles has used over 70 traveling nurses to attend to their continuous and rigorous needs. Absalon says the traveling nurses have relieved pressure on the health care professionals at St. Charles who are at risk of burnout.

The quality of care provided by the health care professionals at St. Charles has allowed the hospital to remain financially viable. The CARES Act has also greatly helped the hospital continue to provide the quality care that is keeping them in business. 

According to Absalon, many of those who are not vaccinated are hesitant and are waiting on more information about the vaccines to consider getting vaccinated. The hospital has made efforts to educate the local population and encourage the safety and efficacy of all the vaccines by working with community health centers. 

“We have made efforts to make sure that we’re informing people and that they are aware of the effectiveness and the efficacy of the vaccines, how to get the vaccines and any other questions that they might have. We are hopeful that as more people continue to understand that this is a serious infection that can impact people at any age, that hopefully more people who have chosen not to be vaccinated will change their mind.”