St. Charles Health System lays off, scraps 2 upper-level positions amid financial, staffing, ‘max capacity’ challenges

Reactivates ‘incident command system’ but denies it is turning away patients or rationing care

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Three days after Joe Sluka resigned as St. Charles Health System president and CEO, the organization announced it has laid off and eliminated two upper-level positions to cut costs and reactivated its incident command system to deal with the continued financial, patient capacity and staffing impacts of COVID-19.

“As part of St. Charles Health System’s continued financial recovery work, two executive leadership positions have been eliminated,” Friday’s statement said.  

“The positions of Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive, currently held by Dr. Jeff Absalon, and Senior Vice President of Strategy, currently held by Rod Marchiando, have been reduced as a cost savings measure. Both positions are members of the St. Charles Executive Care Team. Transition plans for their areas of responsibility are currently being developed with a goal of making the reductions effective by Aug. 1. ”  

“I want to sincerely thank Jeff and Rod for their many contributions to St. Charles throughout their tenure,” said Dr. Steve Gordon, interim president and CEO of St. Charles. “They are talented executives who have dedicated years of their lives to the betterment of the health system. They care deeply about our caregivers, patients and the communities we serve. They will be missed and we wish them all the best on their next endeavors.” 

In response to a question from NewsChannel 21, St. Charles spokeswoman Kayley Mendenhall confirmed that James Reedy, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Redmond, had “resigned his position after completing his doctorate in nursing recently to pursue other opportunities.”

“It was not a layoff,” she added.

Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Goodman says nonprofit health system has seen losses totaling more than $40 million so far this year, a factor in May’s layoffs of more than 100 non-medical staff and elimination of 76 vacant positions.

Goodman said the hospital is not planning any more across-the-board layoffs and is still trying to fill more than 400 staff openings.

Mendenhall also shared with NewsChannel 21 a clarification statement St. Charles provided to OPB after its story about St. Charles’ issues on Friday claimed St. Charles patients “face rationed care” as a result of the surge of COVID-19 cases tied to the latest subvariant:

“We are not turning away patients and we are not rationing care. Depending on a patient’s health care needs, we are boarding them in our Emergency Department until a bed becomes available or we are working with our community partners to place them in an appropriate facility. 

“Like other hospital systems throughout the state, we are at max capacity, even as we continue to struggle with shortages of clinical staff. Earlier today, we activated our Hospital Incident Command System to manage our significant patient flow and workforce challenges. Our objectives are to stabilize staffing, manage our inpatient admissions and discharges, and ensure patient and caregiver safety.

“The issues we are facing are not unique to St. Charles. Every hospital in Oregon is experiencing patient flow challenges because not enough beds are available due to workforce shortages, a sustained surge in COVID-19 patients and other factors. This is not a local problem, but one that is prevalent statewide and beyond,” the statement concluded.

Asked about the incident command system, Mendenhall explained, “We were in a Hospital Incident Command Structure (HICS) for two years to manage our COVID response,” and it was deactivated March 30 due to the then-improving situation.

“It essentially means we are able to pull together resources quickly to address difficult situations,” she said. “We reactivated our Hospital Incident Command System on Friday afternoon to manage the significant bed capacity and workforce shortages we are currently facing, like so many health systems throughout the state.”