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OR Nurses Call for Investments in Mental Heath System


Monday, October 24, 2022   

The need for investments in Oregon's mental health care system is urgent, some nurses in the state say.

According to a study from the nonprofit Mental Health America, the state ranks among the worst - at 49th - for the combined factors of highest rates of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care.

Emmy Grasser is a member of the Oregon Nurses Association and a registered nurse on the senior psychiatric unit at Providence Milwaukie Hospital. She said she serves patients with complex needs, but there's a lack of staffing on her unit.

"In order to keep the dignity and great care for our patients, we have to have that available to us," said Grasser. "We have to have those resources of extra bodies, extra security available to us so that we can keep the patients safe."

Grasser said there are not many care options for older Oregonians with mental health needs. And the demand is set to grow as the state's population ages rapidly.

Grasser said her unit has faced consistent understaffing. She said the impact from the lack of investments in the mental health system is rearing its head at a critical time.

"This is pertinent specifically right now, in this time," said Grasser, "because this is around the time of the pandemic and I think we're seeing repercussions because of it."

Grasser said it's hard to isolate patients on her unit because of its open layout. When a patient recently tested positive for COVID-19, they had a hard time transferring him and felt like Providence wasn't prioritizing someone with mental health needs.

Grasser said two other patients on the unit ended up getting COVID.

"It's unfortunately easy to see the stigma wrapped around mental health," said Grasser. "It's easy to see that physical health and medical needs are superseding, right now, mental health needs."

Disclosure: Oregon Nurses Association (AFT Local 5905) contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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