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Burnt Out, OR Nurses Call on Lawmakers for Support


Monday, November 28, 2022   

Oregon nurses are urging state lawmakers to make hospitals better and safer places to work.

With the 2023 legislative session just around the corner, the Oregon Nurses Association is calling for changes to ensure minimum staffing standards based on patient numbers and accountability for hospitals so there are enough nurses on the floor.

Matt Calzia, director of nursing practice and professional development for the Oregon Nurses Association, said the lack of staffing has real implications for patients. For instance, if a nurse goes on break for lunch, another nurse assumes care of their patients, doubling the other nurse's workload during that time.

"So when you've just had knee surgery and if that period of time falls when you need your next pain medication dose, it may be delayed because right now your nurse actually has eight patients instead of four," Calzia explained.

Calzia pointed out turnover is higher now than during the Delta wave of the pandemic because nurses are burned out. According to the union, turnover was 2% in 2021.

Sean Kolmer, senior vice president of policy and strategy for the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, countered under the union's proposal, "community hospitals will have no choice but to reduce access to services if they are unable to hire enough staff" and argued there is a staffing shortage in the state.

Paige Spence, director of government relations for the Oregon Nurses Association, said along with minimum safe staffing requirements, the union proposal would ensure Oregon's current staffing law is enforceable and provide accountability when nurses make complaints. In addition, Spence emphasized an annual review of the staffing plan would include the number of missed meal and rest breaks over the past year.

"To ensure that the staffing levels going forward are robust enough to accommodate nurses' abilities to take the rest break which they need for sanity and physical well-being, and also are entitled to by law," Spence stated.

Calzia refuted claims the state has a shortage of nurses.

"It's not a pipeline issue; it's a turnover issue," Calzia stressed. "You have more nurses leaving the bedside than you can get in, and then you're just burning through them."

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

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