Nurses Overwhelmed and Understaffed | The Source Weekly - Bend

Nurses Overwhelmed and Understaffed

Surveys of nurses in Oregon and across the country show understaffing is one of the primary causes for an ongoing crisis in health care

Oregon nurses are understaffed, overworked and burned out, according to a new poll conducted by the Oregon Nurses Association. Less than 1% of polled nurses said their unit is always fully staffed, half say they're caring for too many patients and 42% say they skip meals and breaks on most of their shifts.

The ONA called on the state to more rigorously enforce the Oregon Health Authority's standards of care that sets a baseline of 1:3 nurse-to-patient ratio, though that ratio can change for different health care units, such as orthopedics or general medical units. ONA said 85% of surveyed nurses report their units aren't staffed to the standards of Oregon law and 84% said OHA was ineffective in enforcing those laws.

Nurses Overwhelmed and Understaffed
Alberto Giuliani
Nurses are spending less time on more patients as the workforce shrinks.

"We are in a crisis. That crisis has been decades in the making, and unsafe staffing is at the very heart. If we do not act, Oregon will continue to experience the devastating impacts of a failing health care system," said ONA President Tamie Cline in a press release. "Patients will continue to suffer, sick people will continue to face hours and hours of wait times in the ER, surgeries will continue to be canceled or delayed, and nurses will continue to leave the bedside."

A national survey by the American Federation of Teachers' Health Care Division found similar trends across the country. The total number of registered nurses fell by over 55,000, the first decrease in registered nurse employment in five years, driven by retirements and an exodus from the industry by younger employees. The average age of a registered nurse jumped from 42.1 to 42.6 years old in that survey, too.

The trend is likely to continue with nearly a quarter of surveyed nurses saying they're likely to leave the profession within the next year. The pandemic has also been a challenging hurdle for many RNs. Some 61% said the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health, half of whom report needing mental health services. Over 70% of health care workers reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, 38% have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 15% had recent thoughts of suicide. The pandemic also created a more hostile clientele, with an 144% increase in reported at-work assaults in an industry that already accounts for 76% of all reported violent workplace injuries.

"Health care professionals knew long before COVID-19 that working conditions had been deteriorating for years. Then came the pandemic. For nearly three years, they've worked under unprecedented challenges—while for-profit institutions made record profits," said Randi Weingarten, president of the ATF. "Understaffing is the core problem, which leads to other horrible conditions like crushing workloads, mandatory overtime, extended shifts lasting 12 to 16 hours, constant fatigue, worker injuries and skyrocketing rates of violence against health care workers, making hospitals one of the most dangerous places in America to work."