New numbers from St. Charles regarding hospital deaths show COVID led to a staggering 60% increase in deaths from 2019 to 2021.
“So many of the folks passing away could have protected themselves,” said Douglas Merrill, Chief Medical Officer for St. Charles.
334 fathers, mothers, siblings, and friends died from COVID complications at St. Charles since the pandemic’s start in 2020.
Merrill said the first wave of fatalities were those with preexisting conditions and the elderly.
“Those who were least able to fight off infection were the ones who were passing away but also at a higher rate because of the new virus,” Merrill said.
The Delta and Omicron strains in 2021 exacerbated that death toll, eclipsing the 40 deaths in 2020 with 236 in 2021.
58 more people have died from COVID at the hospital in 2022.
The COVID deaths at St. Charles don’t account for all the Central Oregon deaths from the virus.
According to the regional county public health departments, 411 Central Oregonians have died from COVID complications as of Wednesday.
- 77 in Crook County
- 250 in Deschutes County
- 84 in Jefferson County
“That was the really telling thing to see people in their 40s and 50s passing away now,” Merrill said.
Merrill explained a large part of the rise in COVID deaths were unvaccinated patients.
“And frequently were the same people who were not being careful,” Merrill said.
The rising COVID death toll impacted the hospital staff profoundly.
According to St. Charles, some family members of unvaccinated COVID patients showed mistrust and aggression towards health care workers which only escalated when the hospital banned unvaccinated visitors – except for end of life cases.
“Obviously to come into work and see such a high death rate which was completely new and atypical and then sometimes deal with folks who were angry towards the caregivers,” Merrill said.
That contributed to an almost 27% vacancy rate for caregivers at the hospital, which since dropped to 19% as the hospital continues to recruit.
“Though we’ve made great progress, we’re still not where we want to be,” said Rebecca Berry, the Vice President of Human Resources at St. Charles.
The mobile morgue, now owned by the county, continues to transport bodies of covid patients and mask mandates are still in place for healthcare facilities.
“For the hospital, the pandemic is not over,” Merrill said.