There are also about 700 people awaiting discharge in a hospital unit or stranded in the emergency room and waiting to be admitted to the hospital every day.
Emergency rooms, such as those at Oregon Health and Science University, are jam-packed and with dire consequences for some patients. (Christine Torres Hicks/OHSU)
People in Oregon are dying as a result of the state’s shortage of hospital staff.
Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, told a state legislative committee on Thursday that people who need intensive care often have to wait for admission due to a lack of staff in hospitals. And he said that could lead to the worst consequences.
“They could have done well, but in at least a few cases, people died while waiting for higher levels of care,” Allen told the Senate Interim Health Services Committee during an information session. “This is a crisis as big as we have been through the pandemic.”
While some patients are waiting for admission, some cannot leave. Allen said that at any given time, about 700 people were dying in hospitals awaiting discharge or waiting for hospital beds in emergency rooms because there were no staff at lower-level care facilities.
His statement came a day before the legislative Emergency Board considered a $40 million request from the health authority and the State Department of Human Services for hospitals coordinating care in Oregon’s six hospital districts, clinical staff to coordinate patient transfers, and money to be hired. . Another 50 contract nurses.
Hospital experts say these recommendations will only provide short-term relief and will only help certain industries. The staffing crisis is rampant, affecting medical and mental health facilities, including the Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Portland, Oregon’s only licensed psychiatric care facility open 24 hours a day.
Unity’s president, Melissa Eckstein, said the facility is holding patients longer than necessary because they also have nowhere to go.
“It’s not unusual to have patients who have been here for more than six months because there is no way to get them out of the hospital,” Eckstein said.
Eckstein said the state lacks residential care beds and waiting times for outpatient care are too long. Studies show that patients must seek outpatient treatment within a few days of leaving hospital to have a chance of recovery, but wait times in Oregon can be as long as three months, he said.
Managers say hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities lack thousands of staff, from primary care physicians and physician assistants to nurses and medical assistants. As a result, hospitals had to turn people away, while others showed up in emergency rooms and left because the waits were too long.
Frank Ehrmantraut, who oversees paramedics and emergency services at the Polk County Fire Department, told the committee that when an ambulance arrives at the hospital, it should take only 20 minutes to register and admit a patient, but sometimes his staff have to wait with the hospital. sick for a bed.
“They can sometimes sit on our stretcher for up to two hours in that hospital corridor cared for by our paramedics,” Ehrmantraut said.
Sometimes even hospital corridors are full.
“In one case, the hospital was so full that there was physically no room for emergency workers and paramedics to stand next to the stretcher in the hallway,” Ehrmantraut said. “The patient had to stay in our ambulance for an hour and a half in the parking lot of the ambulance bay for a 20-minute procedure.”
Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Hospitals and Health Systems Association, said the causes of staff shortages are multifaceted. Oregon said it has the lowest number of hospital beds per capita in the country. In the past two and a half years, many baby boomers have retired, stress and burnout have driven nurses and other professionals from healthcare, and the industry has been hit with a “big resignation” during the pandemic, like many others.
On top of that, hospitals lost money. Hultberg said revenues were stable, but expenses such as personnel and medication costs continued to rise.
“This is not sustainable and questions the long-term viability of our community hospitals,” Hultberg told the committee.
Cheryl Wolfe, a registered nurse and president and CEO of Salem Health, said the crisis has had a direct impact on patients, with longer wait times, shared occupancy rooms and delayed care.
Wolfe said Salem Health has the busiest emergency department in Oregon and Washington, with more than 100,000 ER visits per year.
“Salem Health has been operating above 100% capacity almost every day for the past two years,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe hired 330 contract professionals, which cost far more than staff, but even that wasn’t enough to keep up with demand, he said. This summer, the hospital decided to close its doors to ambulances with non-critical patients for the first time since 2008.
“We’ve seen a small reduction in patient volume after implementing a referral 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 congregate indoors. Allen said that while COVID infections have dropped at a time when many people are putting off their masks, new variants may increase.