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St. Charles prepares to double no. of patient beds if COVID-19 surge hits

Biggest message from 'virtual press conference' remains: Please stay home

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Despite challenges with adequate supplies and other issues, St. Charles Health System is preparing a “surge plan” for potential patients seriously ill with COVID-19 that would enable the system's 270-bed capacity to be doubled, a top official said Tuesday afternoon during an online news conference of local officials.

“We’re working to align staff to support that surge as well,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive of the four-hospital health system.

Several officials, including St. Charles President and CEO Joe Sluka, Bend Mayor Sally Russell and state Rep. Cheri Held, R-Bend, stressed that Central Oregonians each are the crucial key in social distancing and following other directives to stop or slow the virus spread – that it’s not really up to elected leaders or others to make it happen. It’s in everyone’s hands.

“We all want to look back and say, ‘We did this right. We did everything we could – everything in our power to stop this.'” Mayor Sally Russell told reporters and a livestreamed Facebook audience.

Sluka pleaded with the community for “extensive, aggressive social distancing,” to avoid that worst-case scenario. He said the hospitals still don’t have an adequate supply of tests, but “are actively working to secure more.” For now, tests are limited to those who both show all the symptoms and are part of the vulnerable population – seniors and those with underlying conditions, such as those with compromised immune systems.

“The public must do its part,” Sluka said. “Stay home. You simply cannot transmit or get this disease if you don’t come in contact with it.”

For now, he said, “The growth of this disease is exponential, and hospitals are being overwhelmed. I’m really worried that everything we’re doing will not be enough, without your help.”

Even if the strict social distancing measures succeed, he said, “we are going to face a challenge,” showing several “scary graphs” of what the rise in hospitalizations and related stats will be, if things get bad enough.

Dr. George Conway, director of Deschutes County Health Services, echoed those views: “The COVID-19 outbreak is moving very fast. If we don’t take these steps, hospitals could be overwhelmed, in weeks or months.”

“Hospitals are not the solution. They’re the war zone, now,” said Julianne Repman, Bend-La Pine Schools spokeswoman and manager of the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network’s Joint Information Center. “This is not the flu. There’s no cure. Please, please stay home.”

"I’m really worried that everything we’re doing will not be enough, without your help."


Sluka told reporters the health system is “experiencing a lack of influx of replenishment of our supplies,” which are “gradually dwindling. We go through about 800 masks a day. We have a few weeks’ supply on hand at the present time – based on current usage.”

The St. Charles leader said they are “very appreciative of those in the community offering to donate or make masks. We have a team working on specifications on how people can construct a mask. I would say masks will be our biggest challenge,” as well as gowns, gloves and other supplies.

But the first shipments from a national stockpile arrived Tuesday, he said – 87,000 procedural masks, 9,000 gowns and 14,000 pairs of gloves, 25 percent of the state’s estimated needs.

Still, even if everyone stays home and follow the governor’s orders, “we will be stretched, as far as our capacity is concerned,” Sluka said. “If the projections hold true, and we don’t (do the social distancing), we will be quickly overwhelmed.”

Absalon said the limited supply of tests mean continued “fairly strict guidelines” for testing, at present. “It includes folks with a fever, cough and respiratory symptoms, but who also have other factors that put them at a higher risk, including advanced age, diabetes, heart of long disease and a compromised immune system.”

“We would like to increase our testing,” he said, and with new testing coming online, they hope to have more supplies early next week. But with the analyzers needed to run the tests, “it’s still a bit of an unknown. But as our supplies come in, we look forward to increase the testing of people. Hopefully, we’re a week away, depending on the arrival of supplies.”

At present, the doctor said, the turnaround time for test results is 4-7 days, as they have to this point been sent to the state laboratory in Hillsboro, as well as the University of Washington.

Helt said the state is fortunately “seeing an influx of private testing. That will greatly increase in the next couple of weeks.”

Asked about the restaurant takeout and delivery process, Absalon said while it’s important to support local businesses, “I would encourage people to wash their hands ahead of time and wash their hands afterward. That’s important now with any interaction with people, in any circumstances.”

Asked about the plans for a possible major surge in patients, Absalon said the system currently has 270 beds for ill patients, excluding such areas as the birthing center.

“Our plan with our surge is to potentially double that number,” he said. The most ill patients likely would come to Bend, with less urgent care continuing at hospitals in Redmond, Prineville and Madras.

To free up capacity, they might return to a familiar scene of the past – doubling up patients in rooms, Absalon said, as well as using space not normally used for patient care. “Stopping elective (surgeries) has opened up some space,” he said, such as where those patients are placed before and after their procedures.

Asked who should come to the Emergency Department, Absalon said in general, for symptoms that include fever and “a significant shortness of breath. People who do not have shortness of breath can, in many instances, be taken care of in other locations.” He urged people to contact their primary care physician to determine the most appropriate course of action.

Sluka shared projection models that demonstrate how COVID-19 will increase the need for hospital beds and supplies, how behavior will drive that demand, and how the actions that Central Oregonians take today can save lives and reduce that demand. 

“To say that we are facing unprecedented times is putting it mildly,” said Sluka. “The time to act is right now.”

COEIN’s website, provides a collective resource for up-to-date information. Access to accurate, timely information both locally and nationally is encouraged. Our County Public Health experts point to the Oregon Health Authority and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as good sources of information.

Daily situation updates are available via email at

Central Oregon Emergency Information Network (COEIN), includes Deschutes County Health Services, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, St. Charles Health System, Crook County Health Department, Crook County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Health Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, tri-county public schools, City of Bend, Bend Police, Bend Fire & Rescue, and others. COEIN’s purpose is to collect, coordinate and distribute timely and accurate information. 

Central Oregon / Health / News / Top Stories

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.



  1. Maybe then we’ll find out how many are in the hospital and how many are home quarantine how many were travel related something this 3rd rate training station should have been asking days ago!

      1. Wait a sec….you mean to tell me that following the law is important? How come then, does Kate get to call the whole state under an emergency, when at least 23 counties don’t even have a case, nor have they requested funding? ORS 401.165 clearly says that all counties have to request a declaration first, AFTER ALL RESOURCES HAVE BEEN DEPLETED…then she can make the statewide declaration. That has not happened. She has clearly NOT followed the law. Are any of your people down there gonna check on this? Be honest. It’s a yes or no question

        1. The lawmakers who work with her have not made any such claims. She quoted many ORS’s in her last order that give her the authority to do as she’s doing. To split and carve the state up amid a global pandemic… well, carry on.

          1. It isn’t the lawmakers who work with her that made any such claims, nor did I say they did. I am showing you that SHE HERSELF is in violation and not following the well written LAW. The statute I gave, clearly does not give her the authority. Again…will you have anybody asking about this? Maybe the local chief or sheriff?

      2. The # of currently available beds in ST Charles at this time isn’t covered by any HIPAA or patient privacy laws!

        More BS from one of the most dishonest, corrupt organizations in the State! St. Charles!!

        They have ruined as many lives as they have saved! The archives of KTVZ are filled with horror stories!!

        1. We have hard numbers. We are being told how many are testing positive, how many are dying and in which counties. Why is it so crucial to you to know how many are home quarantined and if they traveled, at this point in time? This pandemic isn’t a hoax created by Kate Brown in Oregon.

          1. We have cherry picking by her and her staff is what we have. They work for US…we ask…they tell. That’s the ONLY way it’s supposed to work. She’s a public servant, nothing more. and a miserable failure at that

  2. Well, not really…

    Little known is that GOV Brown was and continues to be denied “ground truth” regarding the number of COVID-19 patients and their locations/treatment in the state.

    The private sector and for-profit hospitals are denying this information to the GOV stating HIPPA. However, HIPPA applies to protected patient information of a personal nature. It does not preclude the provision of numbers or locations.

    In short, Oregon’s hospitals other than the VA medical centers and community based clinics, are hamstringing the GOV’s ability to make best decisions and to educate Oregonians.

    Need proof of this? Bear in mind HIPPA is federal law – and the Veterans Administration is providing daily updates on COVID-19 to include numbers and locations throughout the country – and Oregon’s hospitals can and should be doing the same.

    VA COVID-19 Cases
    Nationally, as of March 24, 2020, VA is tracking the following Veteran patients with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. This is a rapidly evolving situation and VA will provide updated information as it becomes available and verified.

    296 Positive Veteran Cases

    1 Albany – home quarantine
    2 American Lake – home quarantine
    1 Ann Arbor – VA inpatient
    1 Arizona – VA inpatient
    17 Atlanta – 15 home quarantine, 2 VA inpatient
    1 Augusta – home quarantine
    1 Bay Pines – home quarantine
    1 Birmingham – VA inpatient
    1 Boise – home quarantine
    4 Boston – 4 home quarantine
    9 Bronx – 8 home quarantine, 1 VA inpatient
    1 Cheyenne – home quarantine
    3 Chicago – 2 home quarantine, 1 VA inpatient
    5 Cincinnati – 5 home quarantine
    8 Cleveland – 4 VA Inpatient, 4 home quarantine
    1 Columbia (MO) – VA Inpatient
    5 Columbia (SC) – 4 home quarantine, 1 VA inpatient
    1 Dayton – VA Inpatient
    6 Denver – 4 home quarantine, 2 VA inpatient
    1 Detroit – home quarantine
    1 Durham – home quarantine
    2 Fayetteville (NC) – home quarantine
    1 Fresno – home quarantine
    4 Hines – 3 home quarantine, 1 CLC
    1 Honolulu – home quarantine
    1 Houston – home quarantine
    7 Hudson Valley – 5 home quarantine, 1 VA inpatient, 1 CLC
    3 Indianapolis – 3 home quarantine
    3 Kansas City – 3 home quarantine
    1 Las Vegas – home quarantine
    1 Lebanon – home quarantine
    2 Long Beach – VA inpatient, home quarantine
    1 Los Angeles – VA inpatient
    2 Madison – home quarantine
    1 Manchester – home quarantine
    1 Memphis – home quarantine
    2 Miami – 1 VA Inpatient, 1 community hospital
    1 Middle Tennessee – home quarantine
    6 Milwaukee – 4 VA Inpatient, 2 home quarantine
    2 Minneapolis – 1 home quarantine, 1 VA inpatient
    1 Montana HCS – home quarantine
    1 Mountain Home – home quarantine
    2 New Jersey – 2 home quarantine
    2 New Mexico – 2 home quarantine
    13 New York Harbor – 8 home quarantine, 5 VA inpatient
    63 NOLA – 20 home quarantine, 12 VA inpatient, 31 pending
    2 North Chicago – home quarantine
    2 Northampton – 2 home quarantine
    9 Northport – 9 home quarantine
    1 Oklahoma City – home quarantine
    2 Omaha ¬– 2 home quarantine
    3 Orlando – 3 home quarantine
    4 Palo Alto – 1 VA Inpatient, 3 home quarantine
    3 Philadelphia – home quarantine
    2 Portland – 2 VA Inpatient
    13 Puget Sound – 9 home quarantine, 4 VA Inpatient
    1 Salt Lake City – home quarantine
    6 San Diego – 6 home quarantine
    1 San Francisco – VA inpatient
    11 San Juan – 10 home quarantine, 1 VA inpatient
    3 Seattle – 3 home quarantine
    3 Sioux Falls – 2 home quarantine, 1 community hospital
    2 Southern Nevada HCA – 1 VA inpatient, 1 home quarantine
    1 Spokane – community hospital
    1 St. Louis – home quarantine
    1 Syracuse – home quarantine
    3 Togus – 3 home quarantine
    1 Tomah – home quarantine
    10 Washington (DC) – 8 home quarantine, 2 VA inpatient
    1 WCPAC – home quarantine
    5 West Haven – 2 home quarantine, 3 inpatient
    1 West Palm Beach – home quarantine
    1 White River Junction – home quarantine
    1 Wichita – home quarantine
    Deaths: 4 (up 2 from yesterday)

    The two deaths being reported today include:

    A Veteran patient in their 70s died March 20 at New York Harbor Healthcare System due to complications from Coronavirus (COVID-19). This case was previously reported as positive in an earlier case count.

    A Veteran patient in their 60s died March 21 at the Bronx VA Medical Center due to complications from Coronavirus (COVID-19). This case was previously reported as positive in an earlier case count.

      1. Nah. We all love Barney. I’ve known Barney…geesh… nearly 25 years of living in Bend. As far as I know he has never pretended to hide his political leanings and he keeps it in check. Barney’s a great guy.

    1. Excellent Post ! The hard core data that the vast majority of America hating regulars here can’t stomach ! they need their hysterics to keep the heart pumpin’ they want more death and destruction because that’s what they’ve been promised- Kate needs something- anything to prove that destroying our Oregon economy over a handful of fatalities is nothing short of insane- but that’s the way it looks ! So go ahead you myopic Sheeple-

      Stay Home- Stay Stupid- Go broke ! It’ll only last a decade or so !

  3. “IF” ??? Did I see an “IF” in that headline ???

    “if COVID-19 surge hits”

    You mean Kate Brown has decimated our Oregon economy- has no plan for recovery- but has justified her Executive Orders to throw us all into a depression over …. an “IF” ???

    Historically irrational decision !

    Gee Barney- you always have so much good news to peddle to the local masses- how many new unemployment claims were filed yesterday- today- for the week ? Got us an update- or are the numbers too devastating for the locals to fathom- I heard early on that Vegas would accept odds that unemployment would surpass total number of US cases- but it seems they ditched the idea within the first hours of Kate Brown passing her Executive Order to close businesses state-wide- wasn’t even close ! “Unemployment claims in a landslide” !

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