PeaceHealth Executive Discusses Nurses' Staffing Concerns

Dec 10, 2014

Nurses at PeaceHealth Medical Center RiverBend and University District continue to seek public support through an online petition. Understaffing is at the core of their campaign. For years, the hospital has been cited in hundreds of staffing request forms filled out by floor nurses when patient care is affected because units are short-staffed.

Hospital management insists the problem is being resolved. I spoke with PeaceHealth’s new Chief Administrative Officer, Rand O’Leary, about nurses’ workplace concerns and how the hospital is addressing them.

Credit PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend

O'Leary: “I don’t believe a petition is actually necessary. I'm aware of national data that will link staffing issues to quality and safety and infection rates. I can tell you here today that our quality is excellent in this organization. Our infection rates are incredibly low."

If the sticking point for the hospital nurses is under-staffing, it seems that more nursing jobs would remedy the situation. O’Leary says they have hired 130 nurses this year. He says there are 60 positions still open, however he wouldn’t put a date on when those jobs would be filled.

O'Leary:  “All I can tell you is we have open positions, we interview nurses every single day."

Reporter: "Can we talk about the decision—it was a staffing model that you were using I believe, that you were using to make the changes. I guess they are imminent. Is that correct? You're going to be taking RNs out of their positions in intake at the Anesthesia Clinic for PeaceHealth and replacing them with--  uh, what is it?

O'Leary: "Medical assistants.”

This move, expected in January or February, will leave 11 PeaceHealth RNs displaced. O’Leary says the Medical Office Assistants will conduct intake interviews over the phone. The 11 nurses whose years of service range from 9 to 36 years, will be offered other shifts in different areas of the hospital.

Reporter: "What if you were in a bed here. Would you rather have more nurses on the floor or fewer?"

O'Leary: "I would want to have the right nurse at my bedside who has the right training the right skills, the right qualifications. That would be certainly my wish, it's certainly what we are trying to achieve as an organization. And I have no concerns with being a patient at either one of these facilities. I would feel incredibly safe."

Nurses at PeaceHealth Medical Center at RiverBend are members of the Oregon Nurses Association.

Reporter: "Nurses are saying otherwise. They are worried that they aren't able to give the excellent care because they are overtaxed and understaffed."

O'Leary: "If they're worried and they're concerned then I'm concerned. But I will tell you that we do measure these things. We do measure lunches that are taken or not taken. We do measure breaks. Our data does show that we have made vast improvements over the last five or six months."

Most of PeaceHealth’s 1,300 nurses are members of the Oregon Nurses Association. The website and overstaffing petition were designed by the ONA. O’Leary says he does not know what would satisfy the union.

O'Leary: “We’ve not heard from the union on these issues.  You know we recently ratified a new contract with the union. I would have imagined at that time if this staffing was so significant it would have came (sic) up then.”

Maureen Smith is a labor relations representative with ONA. She says Rand O’Leary did not attend any contract negotiations.

Smith: “He wasn’t even there. We held 17 bargaining sessions, some of them 14 or 16 hours long. So that's over 200 hours of discussion that focused primarily on improving staffing at Sacred Heart.”

Smith says filling the 60 open nursing positions at PeaceHealth will make a difference but what really needs to happen is….

Smith: "…a matter of how they staff the units, the individual units, every day, every shift. So it's about giving enough nurses based on how sick the patients are. That's what we would like to see instead of just staffing to what they call a matrix which is more budget-driven."

Rand O’Leary says he feels “blessed” that PeaceHealth Medical Center is doing so well financially. According to the Oregon Hospital Report, the non-profit facility made $43.5 million last year. ONA nurses say they are happy their hospital is fiscally healthy. They would just like to see some of those profits used to ensure enough staff at the bedside to provide quality care to patients.