Oregon hospital workers and administrators disagree on staffing bill

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — This legislative session, lawmakers in Oregon are grappling with how to solve a staffing shortage in healthcare. Both workers and hospital administrators agree there’s a crisis, but disagree on a bill that would mandate nurse-to-patient ratios and penalize hospitals that cannot meet the standards.

Supporters of House Bill 2697 believe it would hold hospitals accountable, and would allow nurses and other workers to focus more on patient care after feeling stretched thin for years. They also believe the minimum staffing standards would keep people from leaving the profession, and bring back those who left due to burnout.

Opponents argue the bill won’t solve a workforce shortage, and would instead make a bad problem worse. They also believe it would threaten access to care; if they can’t meet the ratios, administrators fear they’ll have to cut back services and limit hospital beds.

Rep. Rob Nosse of Portland opened up the floor to testimony on Monday.

“I know that this is a very big deal. This is probably one of the most important topics that we’re going to wrestle with,” he said.

In addition to nurse-to-patient ratios, the proposed legislation would ensure staffing levels were sufficient to allow workers to take meal and rest breaks. The ratios would vary by type of care and department. Hospitals could be fined, or sued, for not meeting those standards.

Nurses and other frontline workers spoke up in a hearing Tuesday.

“We do not have a shortage of nurses. We have a shortage of nurses willing to work at the bedside in the current conditions,” said Oregon Nurses Association Executive Director Anne Tan Piazza.

“Could you imagine what it feels like to be proficient and competent at a job you love, yet not have the ability to do your best because you’re being continually pushed to do more and more by your employer?” asked another speaker.

“You’re pushing these people past their breaking point and that should worry you,” said one former nurse.

Several people said that despite their dedication and years of work, they’ve left the bedside for good.

“I felt exhausted, demoralized, worthless. Gaslighted, numb, apathetic, and suicidal,” said Allison Seymour. “The most traumatic shifts that triggered my burnout were when we were understaffed. I developed overwhelming anxiety trying to juggle unsafe staff loads, safe medication administration and trying to care for everyone at one with the care they really needed.”

Amid the passionate support for this legislation, chief nursing officers and other opponents from across the state said this bill is not the solution.

The president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Becky Hultberg, called it a “dangerous experiment at the worst possible time.”

“The nurse staffing law needs to be modernized. It needs to work for today’s environment,” she said, “I am confident that together we can work to address these challenges, but this bill does not do those things.”

Click here to read more about House Bill 2697 and to read the full text and testimony

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