Lack of hospital staff is killing people, health officials say – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News


In addition, every day about 700 people wait in a hospital ward awaiting discharge or in the emergency room awaiting admission to hospital

Emergency rooms, like the one at Oregon Health & Science University, are overcrowded, and for some patients, this is devastating. (Christine Torres Hicks/OHSU)

People in Oregon are dying as a result of staff shortages at the state’s hospital.

Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Department of Health, told a state legislative committee Thursday that people who need critical care often have to wait to be admitted because hospitals are understaffed. And that, he said, could lead to the worst consequences.

“They would have had a good outcome, but at least in some cases people died while waiting for that higher level of care,” Allen told the Senate Interim Committee on Health Care during an information hearing. “It really is as big a crisis as we’ve had throughout the pandemic.”

While some patients are waiting to be admitted, others cannot get out. At any one time, about 700 people are either languishing in hospitals awaiting discharge because facilities with a lower level of care are understaffed, or stuck in emergency rooms waiting for a hospital bed, Allen said.

His testimony came a day before the Emergency Legislature was scheduled to review a $40 million request from the Board of Health and the state Department of Human Services for hospitals that coordinate care in Oregon’s six hospital regions, clinical staff to coordinate patient transfers and Money to hire 50 more contract nurses.

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Hospital specialists say these proposals will only provide short-term relief and will only help certain sectors. The staffing crisis is widespread, affecting medical and mental health facilities alike, including Portland’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health, Oregon’s only licensed 24-hour mental health facility.

Unity President Melissa Eckstein said the facility keeps patients longer than necessary because they too have nowhere to go.

“It’s not uncommon that we have patients that are here longer than six months because we just don’t have a way to get them out of the hospital,” Eckstein said.

The state lacks inpatient care beds and wait times for outpatient care are too long, Eckstein said. Research shows that patients need outpatient care within days of leaving the hospital to have any chance of recovery, but wait times in Oregon can be as long as three months, she said.

Administrators say hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities are short of thousands of workers, from GPs and physician assistants to nurses and medical assistants. As a result, hospitals have had to turn people away while others have come and gone from emergency rooms because of the long wait times.

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ambulance affected

Frank Ehrmantraut, who oversees paramedics and emergency services at the Polk County Fire Department, told the committee that once an ambulance arrives at a hospital, it should only take 20 minutes to register and admit a patient, but sometimes his staff have to wait patient for a bed.

“You can sometimes sit on our stretcher in this hospital corridor for up to two hours and be attended to by our paramedics,” Ehrmantraut said.

Sometimes even the hospital corridors are full.

“In one instance, the hospital was so full that there was no room for paramedics and paramedics to stand in the hallway with the stretcher,” Ehrmantraut said. “The patient had to stay in our ambulance in the ambulance bay parking lot for an hour and a half to receive a 20-minute procedure.”

The reasons for the staff shortage are manifold, said Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. Oregon has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in the country, she said. In the past two-and-a-half years, many baby boomers have retired, stress and burnout have plagued nurses and other healthcare professionals, and the industry has been hit by the “great resignation” of the pandemic.

In addition, the hospitals have lost money. Revenue is flat, but expenses such as staff and drug costs continue to rise, Hultberg said.

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“This is unsustainable and calls into question the long-term viability of our community hospitals,” Hultberg told the committee.

The crisis has had a direct impact on patients, with longer wait times, shared rooms and delayed care, said Cheryl Wolfe, a registered nurse and Salem Health’s president and CEO.

Salem Health has the busiest emergency room in Oregon and Washington, with more than 100,000 emergency room visits a year, Wolfe said.

“Salem Health has been at over 100% utilization almost every day for the last two years,” Wolfe said.

It hired 330 contract workers, costing much more than staff, but even that hasn’t been enough to meet demand, Wolfe said. This summer, the hospital decided to close its doors to ambulances carrying non-critical patients for the first time since 2008.

“We’ve seen a slight decrease in patient volume after implementing a diversion policy, but we continue to see high volume as we prepare for our busiest months,” Wolfe said.

Healthcare professionals are preparing for fall and winter, when respiratory infections typically rise as people congregate indoors. And while COVID infections have declined, new variants could emerge, Allen said, at a time when many people have shed their masks.





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