Salem Hospital (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

Salem residents scheduled for a hip or knee replacement may find their procedures delayed as the area’s largest hospital begins postponing some elective surgeries to keep staff and beds available for Covid patients.

Salem Hospital began rescheduling some elective surgeries requiring overnight hospital stays this week, the hospital said in an announcement. The decision was based on the growing number of Covid patients in the hospital and the expected need for beds and staff to care for them.

The hospital was caring for 73 Covid-positive patients as of Tuesday morning, spokesman Michael Gay said. That number has climbed significantly since early November, when the hospital was reporting about 20 patients with Covid daily, according to data on the hospital’s website.

Oregon hospitals canceled all elective surgeries in the spring under orders from Gov. Kate Brown in anticipation of a surge in Covid patients across the state. Now, many are voluntarily taking similar steps as Covid hospitalizations have soared far past the number of patients hospitalized with the virus in April and May.

Several Portland metro area hospitals began delaying elective surgeries in mid-November as the number of Covid patients hospitalized began a steep climb.

Other local hospitals, which are smaller and caring for fewer Covid patients have not canceled elective surgeries. Legacy Silverton typically has about three Covid-positive patients per day, spokesman Brian Terrett said.

At Santiam Hospital, emergency department director Dr. Steve Vets said he's put surgeons on notice that they may need to cancel procedures, but haven't had to act yet. The hospital has few Covid patients - just one inpatient on Tuesday, Vets said - but they're seeing more Covid illness in the emergency room.

Vets said because Santiam is much smaller than Salem Hospital, the situation can change rapidly, with an increase in Covid patients more quickly overwhelming the hospital.

“Salem Hospital is like a swimming pool and we’re like a teacup," Vets said.

Statewide, there were 565 patients with Covid hospitalized on Dec. 7, according to Oregon Health Authority data. That’s down slightly from a peak of 584 on Nov. 30, but up from 171 statewide on Nov. 1.

Gay said the decision impacts eight surgeries which had been scheduled for Dec. 9. The decision to reschedule procedures will be evaluated daily. The hospital aims to notify patients 24 to 72 hours in advance of schedule changes to procedures. Providers decide whether a scheduled surgery qualifies as elective, but the term generally means the procedure can be delayed 90 days “without adverse impact to the patient,” the hospital’s announcement said.

“Our goal is to be nimble and adjust our approach based on changes in our hospital census and staffing needs to ensure we can care for patients, while not restricting care unnecessarily. Patients with questions about an upcoming procedure should talk with their provider,” the announcement said.

This article was updated at 4:15 p.m. Dec. 8 to include information from Legacy Silverton and Santiam hospitals.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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