Responding to the demands on hospital staff who are caring for an increasing number of COVID-19 patients, Sky Lakes Medical Center will temporarily cancel elective surgeries that require an overnight stay.

This strategy will help ease the impacts on nursing staff who care for COVID-19 patients, said Annette Cole, RN, Chief Nursing Officer at Sky Lakes, adding nurses who take care of patients in surgical-care units would be available when surgeries are canceled.

Sky Lakes earlier this week saw record numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, who require significantly more care than other patients.

“This is a week-to-week situation,” Cole said. “Going forward, our Senior Leadership will evaluate the situation and decide whether to extend the moratorium one week at a time.”

Sky Lakes leaders also are finalizing details of expanding the capacity of its COVID-19 units by moving a non-COVID patient-care unit.

Planning for increased capacity of the Sky Lakes COVID-19 isolation units comes roughly a month after the capacity was doubled to accommodate the sudden — and sustained — increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The expansion plan calls for the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) to temporarily relocate from the third floor to the second floor to accommodate more beds for the third-floor COVID-19 isolation units. The changes could be as early as next week.

When Sky Lakes opened a second COVID-19 isolation unit in early December, the census in the isolation units increased from 14 to 17 overnight — a record number at the time. Earlier this week, there were 21 patients in the units.

“Consistently having that many patients in the COVID-19 units means we’re on the edge of capacity,” said Sky Lakes President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Stewart. “Data-based modeling indicates the number of COVID-19 patients could at least double in the next three weeks.

“While we hope the modeling is wrong and there will be fewer patients, we’d rather be prepared, perhaps even over-prepared, than being forced to play catch-up.”

The medical center’s response to the rising tide of COVID-19 infections is a reminder to take appropriate precautions to prevent its spread, said Dr. Grant Niskanen, a Klamath Falls Family Medicine physician and Sky Lakes Vice President for Medical Affairs. “Please, wear face masks whenever you’re in public, observe physical distancing guidelines of at least six feet, and avoid large gatherings and social get-togethers.”