Salem Health CEO delivers ‘dire and grim’ update

A nurse cares for a COVID patient in the intensive care unit at Salem Hospital on Friday, Aug. 20. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Cheryl Nester Wolfe, Salem Health CEO, presented a stark view inside Salem Hospital as the COVID surge continues to swamp the state’s hospitals. 

“You see a young mother who’s unvaccinated, who’s pregnant, and you do a C-section on the young mother to save the baby,” Wolfe said Thursday. “And we know the mother isn’t going to make it. That’s the reality of what’s happening.”

Wolfe described the circumstances during a Thursday meeting hosted by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.

Wolfe said what was happening inside the hospital was “dire and grim.” 

“The reality is we are completely full. We’re canceling surgeries,” Wolfe said. “And we aren’t canceling surgeries that aren’t necessary, we’re canceling surgeries because we can’t accommodate an ICU bed for the patient.”

As of Thursday morning, the hospital had 21 COVID patients in the 30 bed ICU. Of those 21 patients, 16 are on ventilators. Wolfe said the hospital has never experienced anything like this.

“I will tell you quite factually that those 16 aren’t going to make it. That’s the reality of what we are dealing with,” said Wolfe. 

Wolfe added that the hospital has been holding “upwards” of 30 patients in the emergency room because no hospital beds are available.

A daily update from Salem Health on Thursday showed 93 COVID patients in the hospital, 79 of them unvaccinated. 

“In our community, the silence about being vaccinated is deafening. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Wolfe said.

Salem Health is also seeing an increase in children who have to be hospitalized. Wolfe said the hospital sent two children to specialty hospitals “because they are so sick and beyond the capability of what we are able to take care of.”

The update came just two days after the Oregon Health Authority announced that 160 Oregon National Guard members would be deployed to Salem Health on Friday to help with “capacity challenges.”

The hospital has also added 150 nurses over the past month and, according to Wolfe, the community hasn’t reached their peak in COVID cases yet. 

News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.