PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — There is no denying that hospitals are in crisis mode yet again, and the help needed isn’t readily available.
Nurses said hospitals in the Portland metro area are severely short staffed and yet they are overflowing with patients who are in the hallways and spilling out into tents in the parking lots. This situation comes a week after Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s recent executive order allowed hospitals to operate beyond their bed capacity.
“The governor’s order, thankfully, did provide some additional funding for additional staff, but it takes time to get those staff,” said nurse Joshua Holt. “And the crisis is now — and our employers across the entire state have not provided the staff or done what is necessary to provide the staff that is necessary to care for patients at baseline.”
While intended to help, nurses believe Brown’s executive order could make the current staffing crisis worse.
“The healthcare workers who have been traumatized by not being able to provide that high care, it is exacerbating the crisis of staff who are leaving the healthcare industry,” Holt said. “It’s really demoralizing, especially when the system has put you in that situation where you can feel no other way.”
Hospitals and nurses told KOIN they agree all parties need to sit down to figure out how to rebuild their healthcare workforce in a meaningful way, which will likely take years. However, they said it will also require a legislative approach to attract nurses to Oregon.
“Healthcare is going through a very trying time right now, like we have not seen in a long time,” State Representative Rob Nosse said.
Rep. Nosse will likely be the incoming chair of the healthcare committee. He’s already submitted a bill for Oregon lawmakers to consider in January.
“It’s a bill to put ratios in our statutes, so that there’s a guaranteed minimum of staffing for any kind of unit that an RN might be working in at any given moment,” Nosse said. “And then we will begin in earnest to try to work out how we might implement that with the various hospitals.”
Nosse admits though that money is tight at area hospitals right now.
“So figuring out how we have a staffing framework that provides what RNs want, and frankly patients and their loved ones need — while still being able to live within whatever financial framework we find ourselves in. That’s gonna be the challenge,” he said.
But if Nosse can pass his bill and improve staffing levels and working conditions at hospitals, he thinks by next summer Oregon can start bringing nurses back to the profession and hospitals back to the way things were, before the pandemic.
“Our most pressing need is to stabilize the health care system in a way that preserves access to patient care, especially at time when hospitals are struggling with a serious and chronic staffing shortage,” said Lisa Goodman, Vice President of Communications for the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Healthcare Systems. “Contract health care workers are critical for patients in the short-term, and we’re eager to continue conversations about the problems underlying hospitals’ staffing challenges and solutions that will work for us all.”
While it will take months and years to accomplish various staffing goals for hospitals in the meantime nurses said you can help make a big difference too, by reducing your holiday gatherings, washing hands wearing masks and ultimately staying healthy to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system this winter.
KOIN 6 reached out to Governor Brown’s office for a comment and we haven’t heard back.