As you may have heard, we recently announced updates to our facility access policy for all St. Charles locations, including our four hospitals, all clinics and other locations. Starting Oct. 18, anyone who is not a patient will only be allowed inside our facilities if they provide acceptable proof that they are fully vaccinated or if they meet some specific exceptions. Please know that this decision was made for the safety of our patients, caregivers and communities.

It is no coincidence that the effective date aligns with the deadline for health care workers to be fully vaccinated, as mandated by the state of Oregon.

There are exceptions for visitors to people in comfort care, children, babies in our NICU and patients in our Family Birthing Center, as well as those who serve as support persons as defined by Oregon state law. We’re also making exceptions for law enforcement, emergency responders and other workers who may need to enter a facility while on duty. You can find more information here.

Since we announced this policy update, we’ve heard feedback from many of you – some angry about the new visitor guidelines, and some appreciative of the steps we are taking to protect our patients and caregivers. Going to the hospital or the doctor’s office is an emotionally charged time for many people, and we understand that. Visitors and support people play an important role in a patient’s healing process, and we understand that, too.

But the fact remains that we are in the middle of the most serious surge of a global pandemic that has killed nearly 5 million people worldwide, and that number is still rising. Locally, September was the deadliest month of the pandemic yet in Central Oregon, with 56 deaths attributable to COVID. Our hospitals are full, and people who need surgery and other treatments can’t get the help they desperately need. Our incredible caregivers are tired and stressed and stretched thin. Unvaccinated children are still at risk, leading to regular quarantines from school because of this disease. The list of impacts goes on and on.

None of this is normal. And because we aren’t yet back to normal, St. Charles must continue to be vigilant about controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities. As our chief physician executive, Dr. Jeff Absalon, said recently: We owe that to our patients, many of whom are medically fragile, and to our caregivers, who put themselves at risk every day to care for the people of Central Oregon.

Making this change is not something we take lightly. A multidisciplinary team of experts spent many hours working through every line of our visitor policy to ensure we are doing the right thing for the health system and for the community.

That’s what drives everything we do at St. Charles, and sometimes that means making tough decisions. This is just the latest in a series of tough decisions over the past two years.

I hope they’ll start getting easier soon. In the meantime, please stay safe.


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