▶️ St. Charles discusses COVID impacts on care, staff and future of virtual visits

By SCOTT ELNES
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS

We’ve all had to make changes since the pandemic.

For example, I’m creating this story from the edit bay in my home, instead of at the newsroom for Central Oregon Daily News. And when I get ready to go out, I always have to remember to grab my mask.

But what about those on the front lines in Central Oregon? What have been the impacts of COVID-19 on our local medical workers and facilities?

I sat down with Dr. Jeff Absalon, the Chief Physician Executive at St. Charles, to find out.

“They are numerous. Our workflows are dramatically different than what they were before. Screening the entrance to our facilities required a change in how we do things,” he said. “Screening for COVID-19 disease or the virus that causes it SARS Co V2 for procedural patients has been a significant change to our workflows, and there are lots of implications thereof, i.e. testing people ahead of time; timing of getting results back; and how that information is important to make sure that we keep a safe work environment for our patients, for all of our caregivers and providers as well as for visitors.”

And if you think you’ve got it rough wearing a mask when you go shopping, or when you walk from the front of a restaurant to your table, imagine having to wear a mask all day, every day AND deal with the stresses of a rapidly changing environment.

“In healthcare, we do wear masks that people recognize, but this is continuous mask-wearing and for people that are in our facilities in a pre-pandemic environment,” he said. “Masks are worn in the operating room, they are worn when there’s exposure risk, but we’ve implemented measures to make sure that everybody is wearing a mask within our facilities. All of our caregivers continuously wear them, unless they’re in a room with the door closed, like I’m in my office as an example.”

The impacts of COVID-19 on the medical system itself have also been financial. Many of the bread and butter surgeries that help pay the bills had to be put on hold.

“We had to cease doing elective and non-emergent surgeries for a period of time. We’re still working through the backlog and so people have had to delay necessary care,” Absalon said. “Almost all of these surgeries are absolutely necessary to promote health and restore function. These are sometimes cancer surgeries. They are surgeries for heart disease, surgeries for neurological disease or musculoskeletal disease. It’s very important for people to have good quality of life and to be safe and healthy.”

But as with every dark cloud, there is a silver lining, and there’s a silver lining for the future of health care in Central Oregon that has emerged from this.

“We’ve been contemplating and trying to figure out how to launch into virtual care and we were really forced to do this in a moment’s notice given the restrictions to getting out in public or entrance to facilities,” he said. “We’ve been able to launch electronic visits with our peer community, which has been really good in many respects and has increased ability for people to have access to care.”

In a world where change is constant, St. Charles knows that until this pandemic has passed, adjusting to the emerging realities will be a daily task.

 

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