National Guard and contract health workers ‘phenomenal’ to help Oregon hospitals – State of Reform


On August 13, Governor Kate Brown announcement the National Guard’s deployment to hospitals in Oregon to help frontline healthcare professionals amid a wave of COVID-19 and a staff shortage. Shortly after, she announcement an agreement with medical staffing agencies to provide contract nurses to hospitals in Oregon.

Doug Merrill, MD, chief medical officer of the St. Charles Health System, says the National Guard and contract health workers are “phenomenal” in helping hospitals. He says they help maximize efficiency, boost morale, and allow their permanent staff to devote their time to surgeries and personal care.

“They bring a really, really positive spirit to our staff, our patients and their families.”

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When Governor Brown announced the deployment, Merrill said he was hopeful given the hospital system was in an “almost impossible situation.” He says workforce issues were already present before the pandemic, but the pandemic has exacerbated them significantly as workers retired or became travelers for higher wages.

“So 2020 is coming and the pandemic is hitting. We have people who get sick and have to give up the practice. We have people who have decided to retire, and I am describing not only St. Charles, but the entire national context. It is estimated that up to a quarter of a million nurses have taken early retirement due to the pandemic. So what was a really tough situation sped up into an almost impossible situation.

At one point, the St. Charles health system had approximately 130 National Guard members and currently has 124 contracted state health workers. The state contract represents about half of their contracted professionals, of which they have a total of 222.

Merrill says state contract workers have undergone “intense” orientation. Their presence has allowed St. Charles Hospitals to become “extremely” efficient, says Merrill. Their hospitals had to double the beds in rooms in intensive care units (ICUs), where they would normally be single. Merrill says the problem wasn’t the beds or the space, but the manpower to fill the extra beds.

“It’s great to have the beds and it’s great to have the space, but you still have to have staff to care for the patients.

State contract nurses made it possible for St. Charles to assign staff to these expanded beds and spaces. It also allowed permanent nurses at St. Charles to begin migrating to the operating room (OR) and caring for patients who need elective – but necessary – surgeries. The contract workforce allowed St. Charles to begin scheduling these types of surgeries, including open heart surgeries and cancer removal surgeries, and staffing 15-20 patients in recovery rooms.

“It had an immediate impact: because we had help with nurses to take care of patients upstairs, we were now able to bring nurses back to the operating room, to recovery rooms and to take care of the patients. more of these patients. “

The additional staff also allowed the hospital to increase its capacity by 20%, while allowing permanent nurses to take the necessary time, which improved morale.

Merrill says the presence of the National Guard and contract nurses “boosted morale tremendously.” He specifically commented on the National Guard’s positivity:

“You can’t stay with members of the National Guard for very long to recognize the positive attitude they bring. I haven’t met one of them who wasn’t optimistic.

Merrill says that in the long run, he hopes the presence of these groups shows the public the abnormality of this wave and the pandemic in general. He says he hopes this will lead to an increase in vaccinations and mask wear.

“One of the values ​​of seeing the National Guard in their camouflage uniforms on the hospital campus is to remind people that this is not normal. We are not in a normal situation and that really makes a difference. You really have to get the vaccine and you really have to wear a mask. What we face as a population has not been addressed for over 100 years, and it has never been more serious.

Hospitals in the St. Charles Health System are currently at 90% capacity and their emergency rooms are full.

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