PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Hundreds of Oregon patients are stuck in hospitals waiting to be discharged as staffing shortages across the entire health care system have hospitals keeping patients longer, unable to release patients to lower levels of care.
Anne Dodge-Schwanz’s adult son, Chris, is one of those patients at Legacy Emanuel in Portland.
Chris is seriously ill with complications from hepatitis. He was supposed to be discharged from the hospital to an outpatient dialysis facility, but there’s no room right now.
“Staff is stretched thin,” Dodge-Schwanz said.
“We are in a situation where people are coming to the hospital and sometimes staying longer,” said Dave Northfield with the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS). “The pipeline isn’t working as it’s supposed to.”
As of Monday, Oregon Health Authority data show 577 patients were stuck in hospitals waiting to be discharged to lower levels of care. Another 229 people were waiting for a hospital bed.
The backlog is tied to multiple factors.
A national survey from research company Morning Consult showed 18% of health care workers have quit during the pandemic, adding to an already existing health care labor shortage.
“It is a struggle for both patients and staff,” said Casey Stowell, regional vice president for Fresenius Kidney Care.
Stowell helps oversee more than 50 dialysis clinics in Washington and Oregon, and said as of last week, four of those clinics were temporarily closed because of low staffing and COVID cases.
“We need people to apply and come work for an industry that saves the lives of people every day,” Stowell said.
On top of these challenges, Oregon had more than 1,000 COVID patients in the hospital Monday, nearing September’s delta variant peak of more than 1,200 COVID-related hospitalizations.
Many non-COVID patients have also been trying to get treatments and surgeries that have been delayed throughout the last two years of the pandemic.
“And there may not be space for those people at the hospital,” Northfield said.
For Dodge-Schwanz’s family, the waiting is more than frustrating. Due to Legacy’s visitor policy during COVID, they are not allowed to visit Chris in the hospital. Doctors gave him a prognosis of about six months to live.
“I’m not the only one who’s going through this,” Dodge-Schwanz said. “While we hope he’s in that small percentage that has a great survival after six months, we would hate for him to have to be sitting there in the hospital for months on end, waiting for dialysis on an outpatient basis, and not being able to see him.”