PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order Wednesday that expands upon a previous executive order she issued in November. This latest order provides additional funding to address hospital staffing shortages.
Both orders are meant to help healthcare workers as they navigate a surge of patients suffering from various respiratory illnesses.
On Nov. 14, Brown issued an executive order that allowed hospitals to draw on a pool of medical volunteer nurses and doctors to help respond to the surge of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the flu and COVID-19. She had hoped this would allow hospitals more flexibility to ensure there are enough health care workers to meet current needs.
This newest executive order expands on that. The Oregon Health Authority is pursuing supplemental nurse staffing contracts of up to $25 million to help address workforce shortages.
“Our health care workers––our nurses, doctors, and hospital staff––are being pushed to their limits by this year’s combination of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 hospitalizations,” said Governor Brown. “As they do everything they can to keep Oregonians healthy and safe, we must all do our part to help them. Our health care workers are working around the clock to protect the people most vulnerable to severe respiratory illnesses––including our young children and seniors.”
Scott Palmer, the Oregon Nurses Association chief of staff, had a different take in his explanation of what the order entails.
“Essentially it kind of allows hospitals (through statute) to suspend their reliance on agreed upon nurse staffing plans,” he said. “It allows them to just sort of throw those agreements out the window and start piling more and more work on what we know is an already overburdened health care staff and workforce.”
Though grateful for Brown’s actions, Palmer believes they are coming about a month too late and that they will only add stress to an already strained system, a sentiment echoed by the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
“We have critically ill children in adult units and boarding in emergency departments who should be in pediatric intensive care units in Portland, but there are too few available beds,” the OAHHS said in a statement. “We’ve been saying it for more than two years: our system is failing. The unfortunate position we find ourselves in today could have been prevented, and it wasn’t.”
The new executive order replaces the last one the governor issued.
Since the last order was issued in November, pediatric cases for RSV have continued to climb. Influenza hospitalizations have also risen quickly and are expected to increase in the coming weeks.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are also increasing.
“This is not the way anybody wants to run health care in the state, and it is certainly not the way that nurses want to provide care to patients in this state,” said Palmer. “It is heartbreaking and we need to stop this process of just announcing emergencies, waiting for a few more months and then announcing them again. It’s time to start looking at real long term solutions.”
Brown and the Oregon Health Authority ask people to stay home if they are sick, stay up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, and to consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor situations.
People should also cover their coughs and sneezes, disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently, and wash their hands regularly with soap and water.