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Salem Health Mulls Diverting Ambulances

After announcing its flagship hospital was adopting a plan to begin diverting ambulances to ease capacity issues, Salem Health abruptly cancelled a press conference to talk about it.
Brick hospital building with road going under sky bridge
Salem Health Salem Hospital. | BEN BOTKIN/THE LUND REPORT
July 21, 2022

(This article has been updated to include additional reporting)

Salem Health President and CEO Cheryl Wolfe postponed a press conference set for July 21 where she intended to announce Salem Hospital will begin diverting ambulance patients to other hospitals when the demand for immediate medical care outpaces the facility's ability to provide it.

Less than an hour before the press conference, hospital spokeswoman Lisa Wood announced it was postponed until an unspecified time next week to give hospital officials time to “discuss some additional logistics with partner organizations.”

Wood had previously announced the change in ambulance policy was coming to employ a technique hospitals use to manage facilities when their capacity is strained.

In an email to The Lund Report later on Thursday, she provided additional detail. "We are working to further fine-tune the plan with our partner organizations. Through cooperation with these organizations, we have avoided the use of divert this week. Together, we are diligently working to minimize any impact to the community."

The latest numbers from the Oregon Health Authority July 20 report a total of 424 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 this week. That's less than the modeling used by the state had predicted.

But low staffing, combined with hospitals' efforts to make up losses by scheduling elective surgeries, mean capacity remains low.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger told reporters at a press conference July 20 that Oregon hospitals are feeling the strain.

“Hospitals are stressed across the state due to patients with COVID-19 as well as other diseases, in conjunction with impacts on the workforce from COVID-19,” he said, according to the state's summary of the discussion.

Sidelinger said Central and southern Oregon hospitals have been hit particularly hard.

St. Charles Health System (with hospitals in Bend, Madras and Prineville) recently laid off staff, and two high-level executives, following a drop in revenue.

Health Authority officials urge residents in 21 counties, including those encompassing the Portland and Salem areas, to resume wearing masks to help reduce the strain on hospitals.

Wood said this is the first time in 10 years Salem Hospital has considered diverting ambulances to other medical facilities, adding this would be a temporary strategy to ensure patient and staff safety.

Tom Henderson can be reached at: [email protected]