Their story is our story.

The changing face of medicine

When the architects designed St. Charles Bend in the early 1970s, they configured the building so it could be expanded to 500 beds.

With the rapid population growth of Central Oregon, that’s what St. Charles officials thought they would need. If not soon, sometime in the future. Perhaps one day they may be right.

But in nearly three decades the number of beds has grown from 164 to just 181 beds. Meanwhile, the geographic region it serves has expanded to covered a 33,000-square-mile area, the population of its primary service area had grown to more than 200,000 people and the population in general is getting older.

St. Charles has expanded its services, becoming a Level II trauma center capable of providing virtually all medical services except organ transplants and treatment for severe burns. It admits more than 10,000 patients a year from as far away as Burns and Lakeview. Some come from across the country and even from overseas for treatment by the center’s endometriosis program. By 2002, St. Charles has 240 physicians and 1,850 caregivers.

What happened? Medicine and health care evolved—significantly.

“If we did like we did when we were building it, we’d need 500 beds. But things change,” said Sister Catherine Hellman in a December 2002 interview.

What none could foresee were things like outpatient surgery, shorter hospital stays and the increased use of the emergency room for primary care. By the early 2000s, St. Charles was performing about 5,600 outpatient surgeries and logged more than 35,000 emergency visits annually.

As the new millennium dawned, more changes were on the horizon, said Jim Lussier, president and CEO of St. Charles. They included hospital organization and the very goals of the medical community.

Competition among the region’s hospitals was being replaced by cooperation. The formation of the Central Oregon Hospital Network (CONet) in 1989 was a start. St. Charles’ 2001 merger with Redmond’s Central Oregon District Hospital under Cascade Health Services, Inc., was another milestone.

“There’s no reason in the world why you can’t collaborate on one level and compete on another,” he said. “I think that collaboration in health care is absolutely essential, especially between hospitals that really are complementary. I honestly think what we’ve done with this collaboration is given both institutions, and maybe more down the road, an opportunity to say, “what can we do that helps patients move back and forth between these hospitals, that helps patients get quality health care closer to home, that capitalizes on a whole variety of things that we can do to moderate health care costs?’”

The next step may be the biggest, however.

Along with collaboration, Lussier expects the medical community to put an increased emphasis on lifestyle modification. Poor diets, stress and lack of exercise lie at the root of many health problems.

“What we’re seeing now is generated over a long period of time of people trying to live like Americans,” Lussier said.

St. Charles’ Center for Health and Learning, which opened in June 2002, is designed to help turn this tide. It provides seminars, coaching and consultations that take a holistic approach to health. Everything from diet and exercise to spiritual well-being is considered when a person thinks about how to stay out of the hospital.

“I think health care institutions can put themselves out of work by doing these things,” Lussier said.

For Lussier, this approach is not only possible, it’s essential.

“We can’t just fix heart attacks after they happen. I look around at my peers that are 55-60 years old, 20 pounds overweight, they’re not exercising like they used to, they’re still eating a steak or two or three or five a week, they have lots of stress in their lives and they die at 62 of their first coronary. You go to them and say, ‘it doesn’t have to be this way, and I can show you some real evidence that you’re at risk,’ and they’ll make the change.”

This view of medical providers and patients as partners in health has shown itself repeatedly in St. Charles’ history from pulling together to fight the Spanish flu, to building a new hospital to starting new medical programs. And it is what will enable St. Charles to adapt to changes and challenges in the future.

Date: December 7, 2017