Oregon hospital, healthcare woes could last years

As the omicron wave of the virus peters out in Oregon, a big elephant in the room remains:...
As the omicron wave of the virus peters out in Oregon, a big elephant in the room remains: hospital capacity and staff shortages continue to grip the state and aren’t expected to be resolved anytime soon.
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 7:16 PM PST
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - As the omicron wave of the virus peters out in Oregon, a big elephant in the room remains: hospital capacity and staff shortages continue to grip the state and aren’t expected to be resolved anytime soon.

“This is a long-term problem that’s going to last beyond Omicron,” said Becky Hultberg, the president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

“The near-term crisis may be over, but hospitals are going to continue to be very full,” Hultberg added in a Zoom interview with Fox 12 on Wednesday.

Hultberg said there were cracks in the system even before the COVID-era, such as trouble discharging hospital patients into appropriate levels of rehabilitative care, like skilled nursing homes.

“The pandemic made the situation far worse,” Hultberg said.

Couple that with the problems that emerged alongside the pandemic. The shortage of healthcare workers is at a crisis level across the nation, with 20 percent of the workforce leaving the industry.

“We really need to think about this as a generational issue, we have had such a significant staff shortage during the pandemic, it’s really going to take a really long time to work our way out of it,” Hultberg said.

So, what does this mean for you, as a patient?

“I think there’s a huge amount of pent-up demand to seek care; there are definitely some people who’ve delayed some of their care,” said Dr. Johanna Warren, a physician at OHSU and the director of the Center for Women’s Health.

“The message that I try to tell my patients is, we absolutely care about getting you in. We may not be able to answer the phones as fast as you need to. We want to hear from you and we want you to advocate for yourself to escalate if you are actually not getting what you need from our healthcare system and things are getting more urgent, let us know,” Warren added.

Over at Providence Health, Dr. Chuck Douville manages surgery schedules, surgeons, and best practices for the health system in Oregon. Douville is also chief of surgery at Providence St. Vincent.

“I think some of the delay may lead to more advanced conditions until we dig out of this,” Douville said.

Anecdotally, Douville said he hears troubling stories about delayed care.

“Surgeons will tell you that they see people sicker than they used to be with diverticulitis, that people are coming in later. They were afraid to go to the hospital; we were fuller, a bunch of different issues,” Douville said.

Douville said hospital workers have become more efficient and faster in the operating rooms but staffing continues to be the biggest issue.

He said Providence is hopeful to get more employees on board over the next several weeks and ramp up more delayed procedures.

“I’d be optimistic that we can do what needs to be done over the next several months and get people taken care of,” Douville said.

Healthcare providers told Fox 12 they do ask for patience as they try to catch up. Their advice? Plan out your preventative care in advance but get in to see a doctor if illnesses or injuries emerge.