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Oregon Nurses Push for Safe Staffing Levels

By Eric Tegethoff, Producer | Public News Service

Oregon nurses say they are struggling under high patient loads, and they want state lawmakers to do something about it.

The Oregon Nurses Association is backing a “safe staffing” bill this session, which would set minimums for the number of nurses in particular units of the hospital. There would be no more than three patients per nurse in the emergency department, for example.

Paige Spence, director of government relations for the Oregon Nurses Association, said the measure will help nurses and patients.

“Higher staffing levels are associated with a reduction in medication errors, ulcers, need for restraints, lower rates of infection and lower rates of pneumonia,” Spence outlined. “The most important is the decrease of mortality when there is safer staffing levels.”

Spence noted nurses are leaving the profession in high numbers. According to an Oregon Center for Nursing analysis, the profession ranked seventh out of more than 430 occupations for most open positions in 2021.

The hospital industry is pushing back on the legislation. The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems called it a one-size solution for a more complex problem.

Spence countered a 2015 law established nurse staffing committees to come up with plans which set in place minimum numbers for nurses in different departments, but those standards haven’t been enforced, which is why she believes they need to be made law.

“So no matter what else happens in the creation or enforcement of that staffing plan, the nurse has certainty and therefore a patient has certainty in the level of their care that a nurse will not have too many patients,” Spence contended.

Spence added the bill would require the Oregon Health Authority to enforce staffing plans and open up the ability for nurses to file civil suits if the plans are not followed. It also would set up staffing committee structures for other workers in the hospital, such as technicians and respiratory therapists.



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