Hospital Staffing Bill Signed by Governor

The Oregon Nurses Association’s hospital staffing bill has been signed into law by Governor Kate Brown. Senate Bill 469 clarifies that nurse staffing committees have the final say in staffing plans. Previously, nurse staffing committees existed but “in some situations staffing plans developed by hospitals’ nurse staffing committees were not implemented or were changed significantly,” said Kevin Mealy, political communications liaison for ONA. “Clarifying the original intent of the staffing law ensures direct-care nurses and administrators have an equal say in determining how to provide the best patient care.”

The bill also increases staffing audits and investigations, requiring the Oregon Health Authority to conduct audits of each hospital once every five years, and follow up with any staffing complaints within 60 days. Previously, at least two Oregon hospitals had not been audited in 10 years.

The bill establishes reasonable limits on mandatory overtime and extends the required break time for mandatory work, requiring a 10-hour break after working 12 hours in a 24-hour period, with some emergency exceptions, although Mealy said, “These provisions apply only to mandatory overtime. Voluntary overtime is not impacted by the changes made to the law.” The new bill specifies that nurses cannot be required to work beyond their prearranged shift, and the Hospital Nurses Staffing Committee must review patterns of overtime utilization.

The bill was opposed by the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the main conflicts being a disagreement over the number of nurses hospitals should staff, and whether the bill will increase patient safety or simply increase cost and bureaucracy. Ostensibly now HNSCs will have the authority to increase the number of nurses on staff, which many believe will increase patient safety and reduce the length of hospital stays.

 Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center declined to report if it had enough qualified nurses for the Leapfrog Group’s annual Hospital Safety Score. Leapfrog Group is an oft-watched aggregator of hospital performance information. When asked for a comment on SB 469, Samaritan Vice-President Julie Manning said, “Many of the elements called for in the legislation were already in place at Good Sam, including a nurse staffing committee with broad representation. We remain committed to working collaboratively with our nurses on staffing issues as they arise.”

By Kelsi Villareal