PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A statewide survey of nurses conducted by the Oregon Nurses Association and a “Healthcare Staffing Shortage Task Force Report” completed by the American Federation of Teachers’ Healthcare Division has concluded that Oregon’s ongoing health care crisis is a result of unsafe staffing levels.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that the task force’s findings, which were the result of an 8-month examination by head nurses and state representatives in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Alaska, Wisconsin and Connecticut, outlined what the healthcare workers already knew: hospitals are understaffed.

“Health care professionals knew long before COVID-19 that working conditions had been deteriorating for years,” Weingarten was quoted saying in a press release.Then came the pandemic. For nearly three years, they’ve worked under unprecedented challenges — while for-profit institutions made record profits. Many health care workers are emotionally exhausted and heartbroken from trying to care for your patients under impossible conditions.”

This understaffing problem, she said, has created a hazardous work environment for health care workers throughout the state.

“Understaffing is the core problem, which leads to other horrible conditions like crushing workloads, mandatory overtime, extended shifts lasting 12 to 16 hours, constant fatigue, worker injuries and skyrocketing rates of violence against healthcare workers, making hospitals one of the most dangerous places in America to work,” Weingarten said.

A nationwide loss of 55,000 registered nurses in 2020 was one of the key issues leading to the crisis, the AFT report states. According to the report, hospitals and health care systems say that the reduction is a result of retirements. However, the AFT argues that, according to the data, the nurses under the age of 44 are fleeing the profession.

A primary cause of this exodus, the report states, is violence in the workplace. According to the report, in-hospital assaults committed against health care workers increased by 144% in the U.S. between 2000 and 2020. Pandemic-related stress on the health care system reportedly exacerbated the issue, with violence in hospitals increasing by 25% between 2019 to 2020.

The report also states that more than 70% of healthcare workers experience feelings of anxiety or depression, 38% show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 15% have had recent thoughts of suicide.

The survey conducted by the Oregon Nurses Association reportedly echoed these findings. ONA President Tamie Cline was quoted in a press release saying that these issues can not be ignored.

“We are in a crisis,” Cline said. “That crisis has been decades in the making, and unsafe staffing is at the very heart. If we do not act, Oregon will continue to experience the devastating impacts of a failing health care system. Patients will continue to suffer, sick people will continue to face hours and hours of wait times in the ER, surgeries will continue to be canceled or delayed, and nurses will continue to leave the bedside. Unless the Oregon legislature acts in the upcoming session, this cycle will continue, and nurses and patients will continue to bear the consequences.”

More data from the ONA staffing survey:

  • Less than 1% of Oregon’s nurses report that their unit is always staffed appropriately – meaning 99% of units in Oregon’s hospitals are sometimes or never staffed appropriately.
  • 50% of nurses report they are caring for too many patients on most of their shifts.
  • Oregon patients are negatively impacted by improper staffing. When a unit is short-staffed, 78% of nurses say there are delays in responding to patient call lights, 76% say there are medication delays, 72% report delays in providing hygiene and nutrition care, 71% say there are delays in pain assessment and intervention, and 66% report that units that are understaffed result in increased length of stays for patients and delays in discharging a patient.
  • 92% of nurses report missing meal and rest breaks, with 42% of nurses reporting that they miss meals and breaks on most of their shifts.