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'The pain is honestly worse than the hunger': Oregon's overwhelmed hospitals delaying surgeries for others

A Longview woman needing jaw surgery must wait because hospitals are full of COVID patients.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s hospital ICU units continue to fill up with mostly unvaccinated people suffering from COVID-19 pushing units toward the point where they are full.

As of Monday afternoon, the massive Region 1 hospital area which includes Oregon’s biggest population centers, had just 15 ICU beds available out of a total of 350.

To help with some of the pressure, 49 members of the Oregon National Guard arrived at Oregon Health and Sciences University to carry out various non-medical staffing needs.

In central Oregon, 65 traveling nurses, certified nursing assistants, paramedics and respiratory therapists arrived to help the overwhelmed St. Charles Medical system. Only 29 were on the job Monday because of licensing barriers, according to a spokeswoman. The issue is expected to be resolved in the next few days. The traveling medical professionals join 129 National Guard members already stationed at the hospital and helping out.

RELATED: City of Portland employees must be vaccinated or face termination

St. Charles leaders estimate they've put off well over 3,000 elective surgeries as their hospital filled with COVID patients. They are also now restricting surgeries that do not require an overnight stay because there is so little available space.

“We continue to be very concerned about our growing backlog of elective surgeries that are resulting from this public health crisis,” said public information officer Lisa Goodman.

To the north, in Longview, Wash., Mary Metcalf feels the impact of a hospital system full of COVID patients. She was set to have surgery at Portland's Legacy Emanuel hospital to repair her jaw which was damaged by osteoarthritis.

“We’re a vaccinated family. So that’s frustrating to be vaccinated and lose my spot,” she said.

The condition is painful.

“I can’t eat," Metcalf said. "I can’t open my mouth very wide. I slur my speech sometimes like when it gets really swollen. Sometimes it will swell, and half of my face will be red and hot. Pain, lots and lots of pain."

The surgery would require at least one night in the hospital as she recovered.
But now there are not enough beds available.

“My teeth don’t touch right anymore. Brushing, flossing it’s all pretty hard to do," she said. "Pretty much just anything that involves your face, I can no longer do normally,” Metcalf added.

Legacy paused all elective surgeries for two weeks and will re-evaluate after Labor Day. The pause felt devastating to Mary Metcalf.

“I’ve been in so much pain and so hungry and I’ve lost like 30 pounds in the last few months. So, I’m starving and the pain is honestly worse than the hunger. So yeah. It was devastating. I cried when I found out,” she said.

RELATED: 2 Oregon counties ask for refrigerated trucks to hold COVID-19 fatalities

She's mostly drinking smoothies now, waiting for a new surgery date in the near future which she expects will also be bumped back.

Sometimes those who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID say it’s a personal decision. But now those personal decisions are impacting a much wider community with many who would like to get medical care but cannot because mostly unvaccinated COVID patients have taken the beds.

Note to readers:

If you’ve had an ‘elective’ surgery canceled or postponed, I’d like to hear from you and possibly share your story with our audience. Please email me at pdooris@kgw.com

Thank you. Pat Dooris

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