St. Charles CEO: ‘I’m begging you to stay home’; Central Oregon leaders make collective plea


Central Oregon health and policy leaders on Tuesday laid out a dire message to residents: COVID-19 doesn’t spread – we spread it, and refusing to heed the statewide call to stay home puts everyone in our community at risk.

“Make no mistake, we’re in a fight right now,” said St. Charles President and CEO Joe Sluka. “It’s a fight we have to do everything in our power to win. And as the leader of your healthcare system, I’m begging you to stay home.”

Sluka was joined on a virtual public conference call by St. Charles Chief Physician Executive Jeff Absolon, Bend Mayor Sally Russell, Bend Rep. Cheri Helt and Dr. George Conway, Health Services Director for Deschutes County.

Julianne Repman, manager of the Central Oregon Emergency Joint Information Center, moderated the wide-ranging discussion that had one blunt focus: Stay home.

Sluka said St. Charles is bracing for an influx of patients as this virus continues to spread, but he’s looking to the community to help stem the tide.

“If we’re very strict in our stay at home ask and we do this, we will still be stretched as far as capacity is concerned,” he said, adding they are ready with a surge plan to add beds and maneuver patients. “If projections hold true and we do not adhere to stay at home, we will quickly be overwhelmed. It’s going to be critical that we heed this warning now.”

Sluka shared some charts showing the hospital preparing for more than 460 new admits a day if the region ignores strict social distancing rules; that number falls to 117 if the public is vigilant in staying home. The curve flattens with ventilators too: St. Charles could need up to 58 per day if we do nothing, but that drops to 15 per day if we’re able to slow the spread.

Gov. Kate Brown issued a statewide stay home order on Monday, closing non-essential businesses and chastising Oregonians who flocked to state parks, beaches and other tourist destinations over the weekend. City leaders across the state joined in on her ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ campaign to drive home the message on a more local level.

So far, 10 people in Deschutes County have tested positive for the disease with no positive cases reported in Crook or Jefferson counties. Statewide, 209 people have tested positive and eight people have died.

Russell said the next two weeks were critical for Central Oregon and could shape the community for years to come.

“We all want to look back and say we did this right. We did everything in our power to stop this,” Russell said. “As I see it, this is our one chance to limit its effect. If we do this right if we do this right now we will limit COVID-19’s effect on our people and businesses too. This is THE one action that could mean all the difference.”

Absolon said the hospital is quickly running through its limited supplies, going through some 800 masks per day. He said they have a few weeks supply at the current usage rate, but if the cases increase they’ll quickly burn through what they have.

He said the hospital was appreciative of the efforts of locals making and donating cloth masks and he’s working with his team on how they’ll be able to be put to use.

“Masks will be our biggest challenge,” he said.

Helt announced the state had just received 87,000 masks, 9,000 gowns and 14,000 pairs of gloves – roughly 25% of what the state had asked for from a federal stockpile. It’s unclear how much of that equipment would make its way to Central Oregon

On testing, Absolon said the hospital has had limited supplies so they’ve been quite strict on whom they’re actually testing. He said some new tests are expected to come online by early next week, but it depends on supplies necessary to utilize some of St. Charles’ current analyzers and equipment.

“It’s a bit of an unknown right now,” he said, adding that the current turnaround time for the tests they are completing is between four and seven days.

Helt added that she expected even more commercial testing sites to come on board in the coming weeks, which will help healthcare facilities statewide.

The group still encouraged people to support local businesses by getting take out or delivery, but remembering to wash your hands beforehand and afterward and limiting contact every way possible.

Helt said the sooner we stop the virus, the sooner we can move on to an economic recovery.

“It’s time for us to lead together and flatten the curve together,” she said.

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