Hospital staff shortages are killing people, health officials say – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

There are also about 700 people every day who are stuck in a hospital unit waiting to be discharged or stuck in the emergency room waiting to be admitted to hospital

Emergency rooms like the one at Oregon Health & Science University are overcrowded, and it has dire consequences for some patients. (Christine Torres Hicks/OHSU)

People in Oregon are dying as a result of understaffing in the state’s hospitals.

Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, told a state legislative committee Thursday that people who need intensive care often have to wait for admission because hospitals are understaffed. And that, he said, can lead to the worst consequences.

“They would have had a good effect, but in at least some cases people died waiting for that higher level of care,” Allen told the Senate Interim Committee on Health during a briefing. “It’s really as big a crisis as we’ve had in the whole pandemic.”

With some patients waiting to be admitted, others can’t get out. At any given time, about 700 people are either languishing in hospitals waiting to be discharged because facilities offering 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 Legislative Emergency Council is set to consider a $40 million request from the health authority and the state Department of Human Services for hospitals to coordinate care in Oregon’s six hospital districts, clinical staff to coordinate transportation patients and money to hire 50 more contract nurses.

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

Melissa Eckstein, president of Unity, said the facility ends up keeping patients longer than necessary because they, too, have nowhere to go.

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

The state lacks nursing home beds and wait times for outpatient care are too long, Eckstein said. Research shows patients need to receive outpatient care within days of leaving the hospital to have a chance to improve, but wait times in Oregon can be as long as three months, he said.

Administrators say hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities are short thousands of staff, from primary care physicians and physician assistants to nurse practitioners and medical assistants. As a result, hospitals have been forced to turn people away while others show up in emergency rooms and leave because the waits are too long.

Ambulances are affected

Frank Ehrmantraut, who oversees paramedics and emergency medical services at the Polk County Fire Department, told the commission that it will take only 20 minutes to register and admit a patient once an ambulance arrives at a hospital, but sometimes its staff must wait with the patient for bed.

“They can be sitting in this hospital hallway in our garage, being cared for by our paramedics, for up to two hours sometimes,” Ehrmantraut said.

Sometimes even the corridors of the hospital are full.

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

The reasons for the staffing 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 nation, he said. In the past two and a half years, many baby boomers have retired, stress and burnout have pushed nurses and other professionals away from health care, and the industry has been hit, like others, with the “great resignation” during the pandemic.

In addition, hospitals have lost money. Revenue is steady, but expenses such as personnel and pharmaceutical costs continue to rise, Hultberg said.

“This is not sustainable and calls into question the long-term viability of our community hospitals,” Hultberg told the commission.

The crisis has had an immediate impact on patients, with longer wait times, shared rooms and delayed care, said Cheryl Wolfe, registered nurse and president and CEO of Salem Health.

Salem Health has the busiest emergency department in Oregon and Washington, with more than 100,000 ER visits annually, Wolfe said.

“Salem Health has been over 100 percent capacity almost every day for the past two years,” Wolfe said.

It hired 330 contract professionals, who cost far more than staff, but even that wasn’t enough to meet demand, Wolfe said. This summer, the hospital decided to close its doors to non-critical ambulances 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 volumes as we prepare for our busiest months,” Wolfe said.

Health professionals are preparing for fall and winter, when respiratory infections typically increase as people gather indoors. And although COVID infections have declined, new variants could increase, Allen said, at a time when many people have lost their masks.

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