(Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
The National Guard is again being deployed to Oregon State Hospital to help care for patients as staffing shortages have persisted.
The deployment of about 25 guard members will be part of the larger effort to aid short-staffed hospitals around the state, said Maj. W. Chris Clyne, spokesman for the Oregon Military Department.
In an email to state hospital employees Friday afternoon, state hospital Superintendent Dolly Matteucci said the deployment would include about nine guard members who were previously sent to the hospital in June and finished their assignment July 31. Those members could be working the hospital floor by Sept. 9.
About 15 other guard members would require training before they’ll be tasked with serving meals, escorting patients and other non-medical tasks.
“Like other hospitals throughout the country, we are facing an acute staffing crisis. Mandates have increased dramatically since July,” Matteucci said in the staff email, referring to the hospital’s practice of mandating employees work overtime shifts when available employees aren’t sufficient to cover legally required staffing ratios.
The hospital mandated employee overtime 507 times in August, compared with just 28 in July, said Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, which operates the hospital.
“I’m very grateful to the National Guard for coming to our aid during this challenging time. Our patients deserve the best possible care, and the assistance of the Guard will help,” Matteucci wrote.
The hospital cares for about 500 of the state’s most severely mentally ill residents and has struggled to maintain minimum staffing levels for much of the year. Hospital administrators previously said shortages were largely because of employees taking leave under the state’s Covid policy, which allowed employees to reduce work hours or stay home to care for children whose schools or daycares had closed.
"Unfortunately, Oregon State Hospital is suffering from the same nursing shortage that is affecting the health care industry as a whole during this phase of the pandemic. At the same time, our unit staffing needs have increased over time due to acuity and population changes. The combination of fewer available direct-care employees and a higher need has resulted in staffing challenges," Modie said in an email when asked about the cause of the shortage.
Matteucci said in the email the hospital is taking other steps to address staffing shortages, including having managers and administrators sign up for weekend shifts and developing a new emergency staffing plan.
The guard’s previous work at the hospital was a state deployment, requiring the hospital to sign a $1.2 million contract to cover costs to the military department.
Clyne said this deployment is federally funded, as are other guard deployments to Oregon hospitals.
He said the state hospital deployment, like other Oregon hospitals, is scheduled through Sept. 30 but will be reevaluated and potentially extended based on need.