(Update: St. Charles now expecting 150 Guard members next Friday)
Initial 500 will be sent in a week, as COVID-19 hospitalizations set records; St. Charles CEO urges mask-wearing
SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday afternoon she will be deploying up to 1,500 Oregon National Guard members to support front-line health care workers at Oregon's beleaguered hospitals, including St. Charles Health System, struggling to handle a record surge of hospitalizations due to the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Beginning Friday, August 20, an initial 500 Guard members will be deployed to hospitals around the state to provide logistical support as materials handlers and equipment runners, as well as assisting with COVID-19 testing and other necessary services to support hospital operations.
The Oregon National Guard is prepared to provide logistical support for more than 20 hospitals across the state, the governor said. An aide to the governor said he did not have a number brakdown, but the initial deployment will be going to the St. Charles, Mercy, Asante and Providence hospital systems.
“This morning, I received the grim news that there are 733 Oregonians hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19, including 185 in intensive care units,” Brown said. “I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care. When our hospitals are full with COVID-19 patients, there may not be room for someone needing care after a car crash, a heart attack, or other emergency situation.”
“I know this is not the summer many of us envisioned, with over 2.5 million Oregonians vaccinated against COVID-19. The harsh and frustrating reality is that the delta variant has changed everything. Delta is highly contagious, and we must take action now.
“We will get through this the same way we have before: together. So please, if you have been waiting to get vaccinated, go do it today. Vaccines are safe, effective, and widely available. And, when you go out in public today, wear a mask. Masks are a simple and effective way for all of us to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”
While the Oregon National Guard also has members with health care, nursing and medical training, many of those members are already hard at work for their civilian employers –– Oregon hospitals and health care providers.
St. Charles officials had stated earlier this week that the four-hospital system had requested National Guard help, while noting that the greatest need was for nursing staff, and those Guard personnel were already working elsewhere.
The health system announced late Friday that its leaders are "preparing to meet with Guard leadership in anticipation of the arrival of 150 of its members as August 20. Space at the hospitals will be dedicated to the Guard to set up and run its operations."
"As the majority of the 72 Guard members do not have medical certifications, they are expected to support the hospital in other critical nonclinical roles," the news release stated.
“The stress on Oregon hospitals right now is truly unprecedented. Our resources are stretched woefully thin at the same time we are seeing a frightening rise in COVID cases,” said Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Health System. “We are grateful for the Guard’s help.
"We look forward to welcoming its members on our hospital campuses to help see our health system through this public health crisis as we continue to work every possible avenue to secure more clinical resources to care for our patients at the bedside.”
In a statement issued earlier Friday, Sluka said it's expected that compliance with Gov. Brown's mask mandate will be "significantly lower this time around, for many reasons: "people are tired of wearing them, they believe the danger has passed, they’ve dug in their heels in opposition. Some people may simply be confused, or they may believe that if they’re vaccinated, there is no need to wear a mask.
"Today, I want to urge each and every person reading this to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and in crowded outdoor spaces," Sluka wrote. "In fact, I would say it’s never been more important to wear your mask during this pandemic than it is right now."
He also offered guidance on which type of masks work best.