May 4, 2020

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, St. Charles has maintained its focus on our top priority of keeping our patients, caregivers and communities safe. Part of that included strong messaging about staying home.

But in recent weeks we have noticed a concerning trend that has also been reflected in many other areas of the country. During the month of April, emergency room visits across all St. Charles hospitals were down about 42% compared with our normal April volumes. What’s more, our cardiology team has indicated it is seeing about half the normal number of heart attack patients.

While we would be heartened if the decrease in the need for emergency and cardiology services was the result of an uptick in the health of our community, we are concerned that people may not be seeking the care they need out of fear of COVID-19. I want to reassure you that St. Charles hospitals and clinics are safe places to receive care. As Dr. Jeff Absalon, our chief physician executive, explains in this video, we’ve taken a number of steps to minimize your risk of exposure and help you feel comfortable during your visit.


St. Charles leaders have been involved in conversations at the state and local levels about reopening plans in recent weeks. We understand the many concerns about high unemployment rates in Central Oregon and the devastating impacts COVID-19 is having on our local economy.

As a health care organization, our first priority must be to protect the health of our patients, caregivers and community. We are providing data to our local and state elected officials so they can make informed decisions about how and when to reopen businesses in a safe way. This includes regularly reporting our levels of personal protective equipment (PPE), monitoring new cases of COVID-19 and sharing our bed capacity and any concerns related to staffing. In addition, when the timing is right, we would like to work with our public health partners to provide local businesses with support, training information and resources to help them feel confident that they can open slowly and safely.

At the same time, we continue to work with our providers and caregivers to slowly expand our own capacity to provide more health services in alignment with Governor Brown’s orders. And we are actively reviewing our visitation policy to determine when and if we can begin to relax it.


COVID-19 has changed our lives in innumerable ways and it is important to remember the reasons we are making these sacrifices:

  • COVID-19 is a deadly virus that continues to circulate in our communities and for which a vaccination or effective treatment may not be available in the near future
  • Fourteen cases have been identified in Jefferson County while Deschutes County has had 79 positive cases and Crook County has had 1 positive case
  • Health care workers continue to take risks to care for others and we have a responsibility to protect them along with the most vulnerable among us

For these reasons and more, St. Charles has instituted a universal masking protocol. All caregivers are required to wear a mask while at work at a clinical location regardless of their position. All patients and visitors are also required to wear masks when entering our facilities. If you have a cloth mask at home, we encourage you to bring it with you to your St. Charles visit.

We are able to enact this policy, in part, because of the generous donations of cloth masks from our community. We have received more than 15,000 donated cloth masks and have been able to ensure every member of our St. Charles team has two cloth masks to wear in and out of our buildings. We are continuing to collect cloth mask donations and – thanks to you – are now able to donate the surplus to our community partners who are in need.


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