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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."

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Comments

15 Comments

  1. Sounds like St.Chuck’s has a staffing issue.
    What’s the matter?
    Can’t retain employees? Toxic work environment?
    Can’t offer competitive wages to entice new hires?

    1. Yeah it was only a month or two ago they were releasing statements proud they withheld raises as a blanket negotiating tactic, nowhere in this press releases does it say they will start paying staff more, the one thing thats guaranteed to work. How much are Sluka and other boardroom personnel making?

      1. Didn’t know St Charles served North LaPine and the Racist white elitest pigs that live there and post on the message board. Good info!

    2. From 2018:

      https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180524.993081/full/

      “In regard to RNs, employers in some communities are already experiencing shortages. While some of this reflects geographical imbalances, the fact that the national production of RNs seems to be below projected annual need means that shortages may become more widespread in the future. This is consistent with federal projections of supply and demand: Some areas will face shortages, while others will experience surpluses.”

      Couple that with burnout and you probably have yourself a fire.

    3. I think its about time to pull the extra unemployment money and ACTUALLY start holding people accountable that arent actively seeking work.
      Also might help if people stop using the ER as a doctors office, theres plenty of urgent care facilities in and around town for all ankle sprains and sore throats.

  2. This sounds like a complex problem that will take a multi-prong approach to solve, such as not making homelessness a police and ER problem. That’s inefficient and costly. I know there are many compounding reasons for these shortages (my goodness, I cannot imagine the burnout these providers feel too). I hope you find creative solutions and know we are rooting for you. Hopefully staff are treated well and know they are appreciated too.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the had. It has to be a place where people want to come to work. Most doctors, nurses, and patient care staff enjoy what they do. However, the employer has a huge impact on morale. St. Charles has typically failed at this. Hence the nurses unionizing. They need to step up their game with employee retention and entice them to want to stay and enjoy their jobs again. I work for a large local company and they do a great job. I am very happy and have, in the past, been in a dead end job where you weren’t appreciated. It’s a game changer.

  3. You can be leaders and innovators. We can tackle this together. Great ideas outlined above. Thank you for helping us understand the constraints you are working under. Thank you to the staff that remain and may not be feeling appreciated. We see you too. Hang in there.

  4. Don’t know about the Hospital business, but in other businesses, operating at or near capacity with payroll only being at 83% of normal would be the formula for wind fall profit levels.

  5. It’s time for St. Charles to face reality. I have a son and daughter-in-law that are both RN’s and work in the greater Portland area. They receive substantially better wages, better benefits and are more appreciated by their counterparts and administrators. They would both love to return to Central Oregon, but cannot due to current conditions at St. Charles.

  6. Thank your neighbor who moved here from “the big city”, sold their house and overpaid in cash, without ever seeing the house in Bend, ‘cuz “it’s so cheap”. Talked to a few nurses who took positions at the hospital only to realize they can’t afford to live here, so went somewhere else. Get used to it, you have officially loved Bend to death. Soon, all those big city slickers who live on over sugared Starbuck’s, will have to go all the way back to Seattle for a soy latte skinny macchiato because no workers can afford to live here. I mean if you can’t buy a house on a nurses salary or medical professional’s salary, it’s all closing down sooner or later.

  7. Thank you Mr. Sluka for all your hard work. I’m sure you’re aware of the large numbers of people moving here. I am hoping my regional hospital will expand more, hire more and soon. Deschutes county has consistently had the largest gains of population in Oregon for several years and this migration does not appear to be lessening. It would be really great if we met that ever increasing need so the quality of our care increases right along with the population increases. COVID is waning. No more excuses, just solutions, please.

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