Nurse unions and hospitals preview legislative battle over staffing issues

Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 6:24 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - In what could shape up to be a major topic next state legislative session, Oregon’s largest nurses’ union shared new plans Wednesday to push for changes in hospital staffing laws. This after reporting record levels of nurse burnout and other staffing issues.

Wednesday, the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) said it’s partnering with state lawmakers to introduce a new bill they say will address the staffing crisis in Oregon’s hospitals. The proposed law would mandate certain staffing requirements in hospitals and makes sure nurses take breaks during their shifts they’re entitled to. At a news conference at the Oregon Nurses Association, a former nurse shared her story about how staffing issues drove her to leave her hospital nursing job.

“Even though I left the bedside a year ago, I still have nightmares of the faces of the people that we did not save,” said nurse Allison Seymour. “I carried the guilt of delays in care and mis-care. I would go home wondering if my patients were going to be alive the next morning.”

If passed, a policy director with ONA says the proposed bill would also make penalties for hospitals that don’t follow the rules more harsh. This includes giving healthcare workers and their unions the right to file a civil suit if the laws are violated, and impose daily fines on hospitals who aren’t in compliance with the staffing law. But a group that represents the large hospital and healthcare groups in Oregon says, a dramatic change in laws would actually cause greater damage.

Becky Hultberg, the CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems says she is aware of the staffing and retention issues, but feel there are other policy solutions to getting nurse staffing levels back to what they once were.

“We’re looking at tax credits for nurse educators, incentives for nurses, and incentives for clinical placement so we can recruit more nurse educators to train more nurses,” said Hultberg.

Any policy changes won’t be introduced in the state legislature until early 2023 when the next session begins.