Oregon psychiatric hospital proposes plan to hire hundreds of employees

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Amid existing staffing challenges, Oregon's largest public psychiatric facility is proposing a plan to hire hundreds of workers to address staff burnout and safety concerns, the Salem Reporter reported Nov. 29.

Oregon State Hospital, which has campuses in Salem and Junction City, submitted the plan to Oregon lawmakers on Nov. 1.

Under the plan, the hospital proposes adding 359 nurses, mental health therapy technicians, safety and security, and other workers, with an estimated cost of $33.5 million through 2023, according to the hospital superintendent's legislative presentation, which was shared with Becker's.

Currently, there are about 1,800 total positions across both hospital campuses, and more than 200 vacancies.

Oregon lawmakers, who set aside $20 million earlier this year to address staffing shortages at Oregon State Hospital, would need to approve the spending to hire the additional workers, according to the Salem Reporter. Gov. Kate Brown would also need to sign off.

Dan Torres, political coordinator for Oregon American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents state hospital nurses, sees the plan as necessary.

"While some of these proposals exceed the $20 million set aside to address staffing, we are hopeful that a robust and comprehensive package will be adopted by the legislature in the [upcoming] short session," he told the newspaper. "We will continue to meet with legislative leadership to advocate for additional positions and increased workplace initiatives to recruit enough staff to meet safe and adequate levels."

Oregon State Hospital has struggled to address a staffing shortfall and even enacted emergency measures earlier this year, including redeploying staff to units with the most patient care needs, offering overtime pay and hiring temporary workers. 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. In September, National Guard members who served at Oregon State Hospital in June were redeployed to the psychiatric facility.

According to the superintendent's legislative presentation, the hospital has separated with about 100 workers so far this year. Reasons for separation include retirement, family reasons, pursuing higher education, dissatisfaction with job and medical separation.

The plan submitted to Oregon lawmakers on Nov. 1 calls for a phased approach to hiring starting next March, although it's unclear whether the hospital will be able to fill the jobs if funding is approved, the Salem Reporter reported.  

The legislative session begins early next year.

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