Two key officers of Oregon
AFSCME Local 3295, which represents about 300 registered nurses at the Oregon
State Hospital, spent a good portion of Sept. 12-13 at the capitol meeting with
lawmakers on the continuing issue of patient and staff safety at OSH. Legislators
were in Salem for three days of interim committee hearings.
While OSH has now moved into
its fancy new digs on Salem's Center Street, the age-old staffing issue hasn't
improved to match the facility. The hospital continues to be chronically understaffed,
which Local 3295 President Frank Warner says impacts employee safety, patient
safety and the nurses' ability to provide needed services to patients.
The hospital's overall
nursing staff — which includes various nursing assistants, technicians and
managers that are not part of Local 3295 — was initially set at 1,065
full-time employees. Subsequent state budget cuts pared that number to 990, and
other attrition (retirements, people taking new jobs, etc.) has whittled the
number further to 902.
"Because of the state hiring
freeze, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has to approve exceptions for hiring
new full-time staff," said Warner, who works at the hospital's main campus in
Salem. "They won't do so, and they won't tell us why. We desperately need to
get back to the 990 number, which is still less than being fully staffed."
Warner said at 990, staffing
was redistributed to account for a "float pool" — people needed to fill
slots when others are on vacation, state furlough days, family and/or medical
leave and so on. At 902 nursing staff, Warner says that float pool is
"We don't have any extra
bodies, period," he said.
questions two specifics that he says undeniably costs the state money:
- Furlough days — Because of the staffing situation,
every state furlough day instituted at OSH costs the state money rather
than saving money. For each employee placed on furlough, OSH has to call
in a fellow worker on time-and-a-half overtime to cover that shift.
"Furloughs don't work at 24/7 secure facilities, given the staffing
issues," said Warner. "They have the same situation at the state prisons.
The state loses money in the name of public relations over furlough days.
- Temporary staff — While the OHA won't approve full-time
hiring exceptions, it continues to allow a constant stream of temporary
employees. Such temps can only work 1,020 hours in a calendar year. It
takes two weeks of classes and six weeks of supervised on-site training
— 320 hours — before a temp is qualified to work the OSH floor
on their own. "In other words, we train them for two months so that they
can work for essentially the next four, and then they're done," said
Warner. "That cannot possibly be cost-effective."
Warner, along with Local
3295 Vice President Faith Faddis from the OSH Portland campus, Oregon AFSCME
Political Coordinator Mary Botkin and union rep Eileen Tilque, met a series of
legislators from both parties, including state representatives Margaret Doherty
(D-Tigard), Lew Frederick (D-Portland), Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), Val Hoyle
(D-Eugene), Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton), Andy Olson (R-Albany), Jim Thompson
(R-Dallas) and state Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland).