As Oregon Declares a Healthcare Emergency, Care Providers Demand Staffing

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After the December 7th State of Emergency declaration issued by Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s office, nurses and healthcare professionals are raising concerns about how this could further exacerbate the staffing crisis. Issued with concern for how Oregon hospitals will handle the recent increase in seasonal flu and COVID-19 infections, this order allows hospitals to ration care, work with reduced staff, and make changes that they believe will assist with adequate triage. Across hospitals like Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center and Westside Medical Center, two essential hubs of emergency care for the Portland metro area, understaffing has been a critical concern. Healthcare administrators have failed to take decisive action to fix this issue, and the problem will only accelerate as this executive order allows hospitals to further ignore relevant staffing ratios and other workplace standards.

“The best way to handle a spike in infectious diseases is to ensure that we attract and maintain qualified staff on a permanent basis, and any effort to solve this current situation without increasing staffing levels is doomed from the start,” says Kaiser Permanente RN Bargaining Chair, Joshua Holt. “What we need are solutions that increase our staffing levels so we can more sufficiently care for the community who needs us.”

This executive order will impact thousands of healthcare professionals across Oregon, including the 3,500 nurses and other healthcare workers at the Kaiser Permanente system who are members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), AFT Local 5017. Staffing levels have been a significant part of the issues raised by these workers the past two years, particularly as they entered union contract bargaining in 2021. During that campaign, staffing was the primary issue that almost initiated one of the largest healthcare strikes in U.S. history, and for which around half of polled Kaiser RNs say they were considering leaving the profession entirely. 

OFNHP is demanding that Kaiser Permanente, St. Charles, and PeaceHealth continue to respect the requirements outlined in their Collective Bargaining Agreements, that they respect the direction provided by staffing committees, and that they take immediate action to increase available staff at all of their locations. The union expects that this order and the related healthcare crisis could affect millions of Oregon and Southwest Washington residents, and thousands of healthcare professionals.