BEND, OR -- St. Charles nurses rallied again, Wednesday evening, to protest ongoing staffing shortages at the Bend hospital. Caregivers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July and the Oregon Nurses Association is currently negotiating with hospital administrators. Nurses held a rally in mid-September to draw attention to contract negotiations and various issues they say impact patient safety.
Surgical Nurse Sara Land says negotiations are going well, but the lack of permanent Operating Room (O.R.) staff remains a huge problem, "As of a couple months ago, we were short 27 people. We have a hard time retaining new staff members because the hospital doesn't pay very well, so people move to other hospitals in other areas where reimbursement is better."
St. Charles Chief Nursing Officer Debbie Robinson admits they've lost staff, but says they're working to rebuild their roster, "We have a variety of either permanent replacement staff or what we've referred to as 'travelers,' who can fill holes quickly. But, our desire is to have a fully staffed operating room with permanent staff." Travelers are trained nursing staff employed by a contract agency, who move from hospital to hospital, as needed. Land says that makes it tough to form a team atmosphere, "We don't have enough staff currently, and we're trying to just have a baseline of staffing. We're struggling to keep up with that. We hope to get permanent staff and fill our gap with people that want to stick around here." Robinson calls staffing issues 'Dynamic' and says they're working to address issues, "We're constantly evaluating that. We staff based on what we anticipate, and then we have to flex, looking at what the needs are and matching the resources."
In 2017, nurses filed a staffing alert against St. Charles Bend, sparking an investigation by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), which exposed hundreds of additional staffing violations. Robinson says the hospital has since corrected those issues. Then last month, nurses notified the OHA that repeated staffing shortages in operating rooms means the hospital is unable to meet its designation as a Level II Trauma Center. The OHA is expected to visit the facility on Friday. Dr. Jennifer Waters, Medical Director for Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, says they maintain state mandated staffing levels at all times, and any state inspections are routine, "On the day of our visit in 2017, October fifth was chosen for our next routine visit; and the visit has absolutely nothing to do with our nursing staffing."