National Guard returns to Oregon hospital amid staffing shortage

National Guard members who served at Oregon State Hospital in June are being redeployed to the short-staffed psychiatric facility, The Oregonian reports.

Jonathan Modie, an Oregon Health Authority spokesperson, told Becker's the returning nine National Guard members will begin on Sept. 8, with a one-day orientation, and could begin working on the hospital floor as early as Sept. 9.

He said about 15 more National Guard members will also start orientation Sept. 8, and after four days of orientation, they will complete nine days of onboarding related to basic nursing duties, including training on how to respond to behavioral emergencies. 

The members will help hospital staff serve meals, escort patients to treatment activities, provide activities on the unit and assist patients with daily living activities, while following hospital policies and procedures, said Mr. Modie.

Deployment of the National Guard members, which does not have a specified length of time, aims to ease the effects of a staffing shortage at Oregon State Hospital, which has campuses in Salem and Junction City. 

"Unfortunately, Oregon State Hospital is suffering from the same nursing shortage that is affecting the healthcare industry as a whole during this phase of the pandemic. At the same time, our unit staffing needs have increased over time due to acuity and population changes. The combination of fewer available direct-care employees and a higher need has resulted in staffing challenges," Mr. Modie said. 

The hospital has struggled to address a staffing shortfall and even enacted emergency measures to address the issue, including redeploying staff to units with the most patient care needs, offering overtime pay, expediting the hiring process, hiring temporary workers, hiring as many contract agency nurses as possible and shifting to a unit-based treatment model to free up treatment staff. The emergency plan also included bringing in 30 National Guard members, who began their training at Oregon State Hospital's main campus in Salem June 7 and ended their deployment July 31. 

Now, about one month after those 30 National Guard members left, National Guard members are returning to the facility.

Among factors contributing to the hospital's staffing shortage are employee resignations, as well as more mandated work shifts, according to The Oregonian.

The newspaper, citing information from the Oregon Health Authority, reported that nearly 25 nursing staffers, on average, have resigned monthly this year, including 22 in August and 31 in July. That compares to 18 monthly resignations, on average, in 2020. 

Overall, more than 140 nursing staffers have resigned or retired this year, according to The Oregonian.

"People are looking for jobs with less stress," Kim Thoma, an administrative specialist, union representative and longtime hospital employee, told the newspaper. "That's been a common theme of people I talk to. People are looking for things where they can actually see their families instead of being mandated every single day."

Even though the hospital previously enacted emergency measures and has made various hiring efforts, staffing problems have continued, forcing remaining employees to pick up additional shifts, The Oregonian reported. 

Aria Seligmann, a health authority spokesperson, told the newspaper state lawmakers have set aside $20 million to address staffing at Oregon State Hospital, and that administrators will submit a request outlining how they'd prefer to spend the funds by Nov. 1.

Read The Oregonian's full report here

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