OAHHS Hospital Voice Fall/Winter 2021-22

14 » A magazine for and about Oregon Community Hospitals. Then in August and September, the daily number of COVID patients hovered at more than 100. An hour’s drive to the north, at Salem Hospital, with its 494 licensed beds, the COVID caseload peaked on Labor Day, with 112 patients hospitalized, of which 22 were in the Intensive Care Unit and 14 on ventilators; 90 of those patients were unvaccinated. Hospitalization tallies were only slightly lower in the days just before and after Labor Day at Salem Health, the single hospital serving the state’s capital city, a metropolitan area with a population of more than 400,000 and surrounding rural areas in the mid-Willamette Valley. By early November, at least 1,440 Oregonians with COVID-19 had died over the previous three months, more than the 1,435 fatalities last winter, from November 2020 through January 2021, prior to vaccines being available, according to Oregon Health Authority figures. By the end of the Thanksgiving holiday, Oregon had another 27 COVIDrelated deaths, bringing the state total to 5,142. The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 stood at nearly 400, with 91 of those patients in ICU beds. Statewide, there were just 68 available adult ICU beds out of 679 total, a 10% availability, and 368 available adult non-ICU beds out of 4,092, a 9% availability, according to the OHA. At Salem Health, the summer strain on staff was compounded by what President and CEO Cheryl Nester Wolfe called “a perfect storm of accumulation,” brought on by so many people having delayed their care because of fears of catching COVID. By last summer, Nester Wolfe said, as vaccines became available and the virus’s threat seemed to be waning, those patients finally started to seek appointments. But by then, many were even more sick, and required more urgent medical attention—at the same time as the new Delta-propelled wave of COVID patients was filling beds. “This kind of steamrolls after a while,” Nester Wolfe said. “You start to get the number of individuals who are so sick that they’re coming in because we absolutely have to do their surgery right away, or they haven’t taken care of their high blood pressure, or their diabetes—so now they’re just sicker, they have to stay with us longer, and they require more resources.” One of the most critical resources, at Salem Health and hospitals across the state: staff. “Staff were getting exhausted,” said Elaine La Rochelle, director of facilities at Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande, who has been in charge of the 25-bed hospital’s COVID response. Their exhaustion was not just a product of working long shifts. “Beyond the physical toll there was the mental toll of feeling like they weren’t getting people better,” La Rochelle said. “They were used to treating people and caring for them, and they went home happy, and everything was good.” But as the surge