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St. Charles CEO outlines hospital capacity issues amid more than 600 unfilled positions

KTVZ file

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- St. Charles Health System, dealing with severe capacity and staffing issues in recent weeks, currently has more than 600 open positions it's struggling to fill, CEO and President Joe Sluka said Thursday.

In his latest newsletter, Sluka laid out steps taken to deal with the issues. St. Charles has more than 3,600 caregivers, the region's largest private employer, so the unfilled positions represent about 1 in 6 overall.

Here's Sluka's comments, in full.

This past week, St. Charles put out a plea to the community because our beds at all four hospitals were full. We were opening overflow spaces for patient care, canceling procedures and crossing our fingers that people would not accidentally hurt themselves over Memorial Day weekend.

Thankfully, our system was not overwhelmed by traumas, our number of hospitalized COVID patients is lower than previous weeks and, as of today, we have beds and staff available to provide acute and critical care to those in need. I would like to thank all of you who heeded the warning and stayed safe. We honestly believe it made a difference.

But the situation raised an important question from many of you: Does St. Charles have enough hospital beds and staff to serve the rapidly growing Central Oregon population?

The answer, like all things in health care, is complicated.

St. Charles has increased its hospital bed capacity in recent years. We built a new three-story wing on the Bend campus that opened in May 2019. It added 24, state-of-the-art ICU beds and 28 progressive care unit beds. The lower level is shell space for future growth. We also converted the former ICU into a short stay unit. All of these investments have been critical as we have experienced high patient volumes during the pandemic.

In recent years our team built a new hospital in Prineville and renovated and added space at St. Charles Madras. During the pandemic, we have been able to convert spaces at St. Charles Redmond to care for additional patients as well.

All of these hospital construction projects are important as we care for our communities, but they come with a hefty price tag. Every time we add hospital beds it costs millions of dollars and adds to the already high price of health care.

Not to mention that we also have to be able to staff the beds we build. Hiring health care professionals is a huge challenge nationwide. At St. Charles we have more than 600 open positions right now and are struggling, like many employers, to fill these critical roles.   

While continued physical building expansion may still be necessary, we are also focusing on creative ways to serve our patients with the right level of care in the right place at the right time. Here are just a few of the projects we have underway to ensure we are able to meet our community’s growing health care needs:

  • Investing in primary care so people have access to preventive and wellness services with a goal of keeping them out of the hospital.
  • Working with community partners on increasing post-acute care capacity in the region so when patients are ready to leave the hospital, they have somewhere safe to go for care and we can improve the overall flow of patients in and out of our hospitals.
  • Exploring cutting edge ways to provide care in environments outside traditional hospital settings so patients can receive hospital-level care without leaving the comfort of their home.
  • Continuing to offer virtual visits so people can access care in ways that are most convenient to them.

It’s also important to remember that we are still dealing with a global pandemic that has completely rocked all of our worlds. COVID-19 cases continue to take up many of our hospital beds. We also have a huge backlog of patients whose procedures have been delayed repeatedly throughout the past 15 months who are waiting to get in for care. It is going to take a while to get back to normal. Achieving 70% vaccination for our region would help us get there faster, so please get vaccinated if you’re eligible.

We may not always be in the situation we are in today, in terms of the large number of people requiring hospital stays. But, I want you to know that your care is our top priority and we will continue to grow as necessary and appropriate to meet our community’s changing health care needs."

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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