St. Charles to get first shipment of 975 COVID vaccines Thursday


St. Charles will get its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID vaccine on Thursday and will begin administering it to staff next week.

The first shipment includes 975 doses and is earmarked for health care workers, St. Charles officials said in a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Starting Monday, the vaccine to be given to caregivers with the most potential for direct exposure. They’ll need a second dose in 21 days.

Officials say the goal is to have vaccinations available for all caregivers who want it within two months.

Dr. Cynthia Maree is leading the vaccination efforts at St. Charles and said an internal survey of its 4,500 staff members showed about half “definitely” planned to get the vaccine; some are still unsure.

Among those, more than 90% of the 800-member medical staff (doctors, nurse practitioners, etc.) indicated they planned to get the vaccine.

Maree said the hospital is trying to educate those on the fence, by assuring them the vaccine isn’t a new technology and that it’s very safe, despite the fast track to approval.

She said between 10-15% of the staff are not interested in the vaccine – and the hospital cannot require anyone to get it.

“We’re going to try to vaccinate as many people as we can,” Maree said. “Then we can begin to look at the policies.”

All of the vaccines will be administered at St. Charles in Bend, Marlee said, due to logistical and safety concerns.

Additional shipments heading this way in the coming weeks will be distributed to long-term care facility residents and emergency responders.

St. Charles officials say they don’t expect the vaccine to be available to the general public until late spring or early summer 2021.

In an email to the public earlier Tuesday morning, President and CEO Joe Sluka said information about the vaccine and plans for distribution “is evolving rapidly,” but gave some answers for common questions.

  • St. Charles is set to receive its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17
  • The Oregon Health Authority has outlined a phased approach to vaccination, meaning health care workers, long-term care facility residents and emergency responders will be first on the list
  • The state is working with commercial pharmacies to distribute the vaccine to long-term care facilities, which means St. Charles is not responsible for this portion of the vaccine distribution
  • We are working on plans to administer the vaccine to St. Charles caregivers based on the Oregon Health Authority’s guidance for prioritization – this means those staff members who are critical for maintaining hospital capacity to serve the greatest number of patients and who have the most direct exposure to COVID-19 will be given the vaccine first
  • St. Charles caregivers are not required to take the vaccine, but we are encouraging them to do so
  • All of our staff will be required to continue masking and distancing until we achieve a high rate of vaccination throughout the general public
  • We do not yet know when we will have enough vaccine supply in Central Oregon to begin vaccinating high-risk patients, but anticipate it could be several months

“The approval of the Pfizer vaccine – and the likely approval of the Moderna vaccine this week – is such an exciting step in our fight against COVID-19 and our quest to return to a more normal way of life,” Sluka said. “But, we are not out of the woods yet. We continue to see high daily positive case counts in our three counties and our numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also remains high.”

On Tuesday the hospital reported 32 COVID patients; four are in the ICU and three are on a ventilator.

Chief Physician Executive Jeff Absalon said as of Tuesday afternoon, the hospital’s ICU was full.

▶️ Hundreds of surgeries delayed as COVID hospitalizations spike at St. Charles


COVID-19 cases keep rising in Deschutes County and St. Charles hospital in Bend has limited beds.

“We are filling up and we are in the process of reducing surgeries in an effort to create capacity to take care of patients that are sick,” said St. Charles Chief Physician Executive, Dr. Jeff Absalon.

There are 29 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 

It’s the highest number they’ve had so far, roughly twice as many as the previous week.

“We’ve seen the numbers in our area increase significantly in the last several weeks,” Absalon said. “It takes a few weeks after we see the community numbers go up for us to see the numbers go up in the hospital and that is exactly what has happened here.”

Deschutes County last week reported 459 new COVID cases – nearly 200 more than the week before.

Lisa Goodman, a spokeswoman for St. Charles said 20 of the hospital’s 30 ICU beds were full.

And across the region’s four hospital campuses, 82% of the beds were occupied as of Monday.

Hundreds of elective surgeries are being delayed, that’s 25 to 40% of all surgeries performed at the hospital.

“Elective surgeries include things such as heart surgery, including such things as cancer surgery. So there are a lot of very important surgeries included in that bucket,” Absalon said.

He adds, everyone is feeling the pressure and stress on the health system at this time.

“We just don’t know if this is the peak or not,” he said. “What we do know is, the measures that have been used previously are effective. If people wear a mask, if they keep their physical distance, if they stay home when they are ill if they wash their hands. We know we can bend the curve and that is exactly what needs to happen.”

Absalon also added, there is a risk the hospital reaches capacity, given the variety of other patients typically admitted this time of year.

St. Charles-Bend Tech Workers Vote to Unionize

Technical professionals at St. Charles in Bend voted Thursday to unionize, joining the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

According to a statement from OFNHP Communications Organizer Megan Hise, the vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board culminated months of coworker to coworker conversations about joining together in union.

“It was a decisive victory, in which the techs voted 90 to 34 in favor of organizing with OFNHP, a union of healthcare workers affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Nurses at the hospital unionized in 1994; they are represented by the Oregon Nurses Association, also an AFT affiliate,” Hise said.

The newly-organized group of 160 workers includes technologists working in surgical services, imaging, and respiratory care, among other departments.

“I am organizing because I see a critical need for technologists to have a voice,” says veteran ultrasound tech, Dee Dee Schumacher. “I want to ensure that technologists following in my footsteps can stay as passionate and dedicated as I have been in my career. I look forward to working collaboratively with St. Charles to ensure this happens.”

St. Charles techs want to address several concerns in negotiations, including short-staffing, scheduling problems, and keeping up with the skyrocketing cost of living in the Bend area.

OFNHP is excited to welcome St. Charles caregivers to our movement for quality care and good jobs,” says OFNHP President Adrienne Enghouse. “When healthcare workers have a voice at work through our union, we have more power to advocate for what our patients and our families need.”

▶️ Community Rallies Behind Dance Teacher Diagnosed with Cancer

A new normal for a local dance studio owner who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In less than two months, Brandi Nichols has endured more than most can imagine.

After being diagnosed with grade two Astrocytoma, she has gained a positive perspective on life, family and her community.

A native Oregonian who has been dancing since the age of seven, the beloved owner of Bend’s family owned dance studio, Gotta Dance Studio & Co. Brandi is also mother to three beautiful daughters.

Brandi entered the summer with the expectation of most, a season full of fun and relaxation. Until she encountered a challenge she never saw coming.

“It was June 30th I ended up having a seizure, then we discovered what the reason was.” Brandi said. “We found out that I have a brain tumor.”

Brandi was diagnosed with low grade glioma. More specifically, grade two astrocytoma. During what may seem like the darkest of times, Brandi is looking at life in the brightest of ways saying, “I don’t think you can approach life in any other way than with positivity when you’re faced with the reality of a brain tumor.”

Since her diagnosis, Brandi has received an immense amount of support from her dance community, the Bend community, as well as local businesses. Web Foot Painting was so touched by Brandi’s story, they’ll be painting her dance studio free of charge.

Gavin Hepp, Owner of Web Foot Painting says, “For me, immediately I just though about my own family and felt the pain that they’re probably feeling. In those moments anything you can do to help is helpful.”

Even St. Charles Medical Center, where Brandi received her biopsy on August 7th, is taking care of all of her medical bills, about $50,000 worth, until the end of October. Including her neurosurgeon writing off her surgery.

 “This diagnosis has woken me up to what life is supposed to be about.” say Brandi, “The way I am beating this is through gratitude for everybody that is taking care of me.”

Brandi has a long road of treatment ahead of her, and the future is uncertain. But what she does know is that there are cases out there far more serious than hers, and she is determined to remain optimistic


Threat Prompts Precautions at St. Charles

Officials Increase Security After Threat From ER Patient

There was an increase of security patrols at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend on Thursday due to a threat made about a month ago by a patient in the ER. St. Charles safety department and police interviewed the man who made the threat for March 8th. They did not believe the person posed any risks, but he does have a 60-day no trespass order.

However, with security and hospital staff on high alert, a staff member did report a suspicious package at a bus stop outside of the hospital. The box was checked out by security staff and turned out to be a thermometer for concrete that was being poured as part of an ongoing construction project.

There was also a small dumpster fire reported at the hospital on Thursday, but according to St. Charles staff, that was put out within about ten minutes. Bend Fire happened to be at the hospital for unrelated reasons, which allowed to respond within minutes.

Man Sustains Severe Burns Trying to Save the Family Dog

A college student is recovering from severe burns at the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Health Center in Portland after putting his own life at risk to try to save the family dog.

As Central Oregon Daily’s Anyssa Bohanan reports, the student’s family is now asking for help for their hero in need.

If you’d like to donate, you can visit Brent’s GoFundMe page at:

Therapy Dog Volunteers Needed at St. Charles

The use of therapy dogs was started by a registered nurse named Elaine Smith, who in 1976 noticed how well patients were responding to visits by a chaplain and his golden retriever. After observing these benefits in her own patients, Smith started Therapy Dogs International, a program for training dogs to visit institutions and the demand for therapy dogs grew from there.

Central Oregon Daily’s Diane Dean takes a look at how therapy dogs are making an impact on the lives of patients and employees at St. Charles Medical Center.

St. Charles to Close Women’s Health Clinic in Bend

Some women  in Bend are looking for a new OB/GYN after St. Charles Health System announced that it will be suspending its services at the Center for Women’s Health Clinic.

Patients received a letter from St. Charles in the mail over the holiday weekend informing them that the OB/GYN services at the Center in Bend were going to be suspended and encouraged them to contact the Center for Women’s Health in Redmond if they want to stay in the St. Charles System.

Central Oregon Daily’s Anyssa Bohanan sat down with the president of the St. Charles Medical Group, John Weinsheim, and an OB/GYN from the East Cascade Women’s Group, Diana Ackerman, about the potential impact of the Center shutting down.