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Overloaded Rogue Valley hospitals again delaying some surgeries

Mail Tribune / file photo Rogue Valley hospitals are delaying some surgeries due to overcrowding caused by difficulties in discharging recovering patients into nursing homes.
Many patients awaiting discharge have nowhere to go

Rogue Valley hospitals are once again delaying many surgeries because of too many people in hospitals.

Hospitals canceled all but the most urgent surgeries during a summer and fall COVID-19 surge that filled hospitals to overflowing. They also struggled to find spots in local nursing homes and rehabilitation centers for patients who were ready to be discharged, but still needed follow-up care. The surge has since subsided.

The continuing shortage of spots for patients awaiting discharge is the main driver of the current wave of delayed surgeries, said Lauren Van Sickle, spokeswoman for Asante.

“To give you a sense of the situation, each day at Asante Rogue Regional, we discharge an average of 20 to 30 patients. However, we also admit 40 to 60 new patients,” she said.

On Thursday, Asante had 76 patients in its three hospitals waiting for a placement in a skilled nursing or long-term care facility. Meanwhile, 60 incoming patients were boarding in alternate hospital spaces while they waited for a hospital bed to open up, Van Sickle said.

Asante has had to cancel elective surgeries at Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, limit inpatient surgeries at Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass and limit some elective surgeries at Ashland Community Hospital, according to Van Sickle.

Although elective surgeries may sound minor, the term applies to nonemergency, scheduled surgeries covering everything from knee replacements to cancer surgery, according to surgeons.

“Medical concerns can be stressful, and we never want to tell someone their surgery has been delayed, possibly adding to that stress,” Van Sickle said. “Caring for people is what we do, so it’s an incredibly difficult phone call for our employees to make, and a much worse call for the patient to receive.”

Providence Medford Medical Center is rescheduling some surgeries, according to Julie Denney, spokeswoman for the hospital.

“We are continuing with elective surgeries. At times we must adjust our surgery schedule because patients are staying longer in the hospital — not only because of COVID admissions, but also due to the limited options for discharging patients to skilled nursing and long-term care facilities, which continue to experience significant staffing constraints,” Denney said.

Those facilities have faced staff shortages throughout the pandemic, while also operating under extra COVID-19 safety regulations that limit their ability to accept patients, according to those in the industry.

Nationwide, nursing and residential care facilities lost 11,000 workers in November, while doctors and specialist offices added 17,000 jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.

To cope with the overload of patients, Asante — with patient consent — often transfers patients to available beds in its Medford, Ashland or Grants Pass hospitals. Asante is also putting patient beds in parts of hospitals normally used for other types of medical purposes, Van Sickle said.

“Our teams have become very creative and nimble on how we safely accommodate the growing number of patients who are waiting for an inpatient hospital bed,” she said.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Jackson and Josephine counties peaked at 223 patients Sept. 1 at the height of the summer and fall surge. Numbers had dropped to 31 patients with COVID-19 Nov. 22, but have been trending up since then, according to hospitalization data.

On Friday, Rogue Valley hospitals were caring for 52 people with COVID-19, including 16 in intensive care, Jackson County Public Health reported.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is now similar to numbers seen during a COVID-19 surge last winter that didn’t spike as high as this year’s summer and fall surge.

After the most recent surge tapered off, Denney said, Providence anticipated that COVID-19 hospitalizations would trend up this winter, and that is happening. It’s too soon to tell if Thanksgiving gatherings will trigger a surge because hospitalizations lag behind when people get infected with the virus, she said.

Denney said contract nurses and Oregon National Guard service members are continuing to work on site to help Providence caregivers and patients. Providence is also recruiting to fill open positions in both clinical and nonclinical departments.

So far, flu cases aren’t affecting hospital capacity, but it’s still early in the season, Denney said.

“We encourage anyone who is able to be vaccinated for the flu and COVID to do so, including COVID boosters for those who are now eligible,” she said.

COVID-19 booster shots are authorized for everyone 16 and older. Immunity from initial COVID-19 shots wanes gradually over time, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Van Sickle said the public can assist health care workers and patients by gathering safely over the holidays and helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

“For the past two years, our employees, especially our frontline caregivers, continue to give their all for this community and are among the most amazing humans,” she said.

More information

For information on careers with Providence, see providence-medford.jobs/.

For information on careers with Asante, visit asante.org/careers.

For nursing home or hospital job information, see oregon.gov/employ and search for a job with your skill set, such as certified nursing assistant.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.