OREGON NEWS: Oregon Nursing Group, Resigned, Calls for ‘Bold’ Action to Address Staffing Shortages

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OREGON NEWS: The Oregon Nursing Association blasted hospital executives, saying they were more concerned about profits than their nurses.

The intensive care required for Covid-19 patients has exhausted nurses and other healthcare workers. (Photo by Oregon University of Health and Science)

As the Covid-19 vaccine mandate looms, the Oregon Nurses Association entered the fray on Thursday, calling on the state to take ‘bold’ action to relieve nurses overworked by grueling shifts and to train a new body.

At a press conference, association officials called on hospitals to allow nurses to take real breaks from work, stop relying on temporary traveling nurses and invest more in a wellness program. to help nurses cope with mental health issues.

They also called for increased salaries for professors at Oregon colleges and universities to expand student training, with loan forgiveness programs that would attract nurses to underserved areas.

“Nurses are asking responders, frontline workers and hospital leaders to step in and reinvent how and why we deliver health care,” said Lynda Pond, RN and Chair of the Board of Directors of association.

The association represents approximately 13,500 nurses out of nearly 72,000 registered by the Oregon Board of Nursing.

The press conference comes amid a strike vote among 3,400 nurses and other healthcare professionals at Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Oregon over compensation contract negotiations and other issues. Nurses are represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which said nationally a majority of 52,000 Kaiser Permanente staff represented by 21 unions are currently voting on the walkouts. In Oregon, the federation is expected to know the result of the vote on Monday. Before members leave work, the union must give Kaiser Permanente 10 days notice.

At Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles, nurses held a rally Thursday night. Their contract, negotiated by the Oregon Nurses Association, expired in June. And in another union action, healthcare workers represented by Local 49 of the Service Employees International Union are staging a two-day strike that began Wednesday at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield over outsourcing, standards staffing and other issues.

In the meantime, all healthcare workers face a vaccination warrant on Oct. 18, which could downsize statewide.

“We know that over 90% of ONA members are vaccinated,” Pond said. “We also know that a small number of nurses across the state have made the decision not to get the vaccine, and those nurses will likely be fired.”

Only 83% of nurses are vaccinated, according to data from the Oregon Health Authority.

“We know the loss of a single bedside nurse will put increased strain on our healthcare system, and we have urged hospitals and our lawmakers to do everything in their power to keep nurses working. for the sake of the patients, ”said the pond.

Next week, the Board of Nursing will review a temporary rule that would make Covid-19 vaccination a requirement for obtaining a nursing license. However, the rule would not immediately affect registered nurses.

“No nursing license will be automatically revoked on October 18 for failure to comply with the Governor’s Order in Council,” said Barbara Holtry, spokesperson for the Board of Nursing.

She added that the board only investigates when it receives a complaint. In addition to revoking a license, the board can impose a range of penalties, from a reprimand to a fine of $ 5,000.

The Oregon Health Authority has left it to employers to control the mandate.

Scott Palmer, spokesperson for ONA, said the temporary rule was only housekeeping, adding that it “seems reasonable”.

Rather than discussing the tenure, Palmer said the association wanted to focus on the future.

Members of the association’s board have blasted the hospital industry, accusing executives of putting results above staff well-being.

“The nursing crisis did not start with Covid-19 or with vaccination warrants,” Pond said. “It was created and made worse by hospital executives who have always chosen to put profits before patients. “

For example, the association singled out Oregon Health & Science University.

“The OHSU provides an example of what not to do in response to the current crisis,” said Matt Calzia, RN and ONA nursing practice consultant.

In a September survey at OHSU, over 90% of nurses said they had felt mentally exhausted in the past two months, nearly 80% said they were physically exhausted, 85% said they were feel overwhelmed and about 60% said they would like to quit nursing.

Yet, on Monday, OHSU informed its nurses that it may sometimes have to take on a greater load of critical and acute care patients, Calzia said.

“Even before this wave is over, the OHSU is already asking nurses to go even further,” Calzia said.

OHSU communications staff did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

OHSU nurses have traditionally worked three 12-hour shifts per week, said Natasha Schwartz, an OHSU nurse and a member of the association’s board of directors. But she said during the pandemic, nurses worked extra shifts, working up to 60 hours a week. Often during a shift, nurses do not have a break, officials said.

Calzia called on hospitals to end a “buddy break” system in which nurses replace each other during breaks by taking more patients. He said hospitals need to have a dedicated set of backup nurses for breaks, as currently planned at Sacred Heart Medical Center University District in Eugene and OHSU Health Hillsboro Medical Center.

“It’s a simple solution for relieving fatigue,” Calzia said.

Another point of contention for the association is the use of contract nurses.

Calzia said hospitals have become “dangerously dependent” on traveling nurses, who have been used to fill staffing gaps, especially in southern Oregon where hospitals have run out of beds during the current wave. He said up to a third of nurses in some hospitals are under contract, and some units are fully staffed with so-called itinerant staff.

The Oregon Health Authority signed contracts for $ 133 million with temporary recruiting agencies to pay dozens of contract nurses and other practitioners. The contracts include $ 12 million for the three Asante hospitals in southern Oregon, $ 2 million for the Providence Medford Medical Center and $ 2.5 million for the Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg and $ 9 million for dollars for Oregon State Hospital.

The health authority plans to bill the cost to the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Some of the contracts run until December 31 and others expire on February 28.

The nurses’ association also urged hospitals and lawmakers to invest more in mental health support. Calzia has asked the legislature to approve $ 1.8 million to add a mental health provision to Oregon’s wellness program, which is funded by both public and private funds.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems did not respond directly to the association’s suggestions. Instead, he admitted in a statement that nurses were exhausted and said he sounded the alarm bells about the labor shortage.

“Hospitals have done everything in their power to provide the best care and the best place to work as possible as we continue to fight the pandemic,” the statement said. “We agree that this environment is not sustainable. Finding solutions focused on the health of the communities we serve will require a high degree of trust and collaboration between stakeholders, the executive and the legislature. “

Another important area for the association is the training of the next generation of nurses. Schwartz said teachers’ salaries needed to be increased.

“Since nursing faculty can earn so much more in clinical settings, we need to address salary disparities to retain qualified educators,” said Schwartz.

She said students also need more scholarships and called for the creation of a nursing corps program that would cancel student loans. In return, graduates would work four years in areas most affected by shortages and in clinics serving underserved and marginalized populations.

“Repairing the nursing pipeline will require partnerships, collaboration and innovative thinking,” said Schwartz. “Failure to tackle the nursing pipeline just guarantees an even bigger crisis in our future. “

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