State health officials have expanded measures to ease staffing constraints among Oregon’s health care workforce, maintain adequate staffing through the end of the year and support health care workers.
This fall, Oregon has spent more than $140 million to help health care workers.
Hospitals, clinic and other health care programs continue to grapple with the strains of a recent surge as the Delta variant rages among unvaccinated people. While new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are expected to decline in coming weeks and months, hospital beds remain in high demand across the state. State health experts remain cautious in the face of case increases elsewhere in the nation and the coming holidays, when many people will gather indoors.
Oregon has extended the term of approximately 1,000 crisis response and other medical personnel for understaffed hospitals throughout the state, which was set to expire Nov. 22. Governor Brown approved a contract extension with Jogan Staffing through mid-January 2022. The contract will cover pediatric and adult behavioral healthcare residential treatment programs, emergency staffing for hospitals with acute COVID-related needs, emergency medical services, long-term care facilities, vaccine hubs, homes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and other programs. To date, Oregon has spent more than $90 million to provide emergency staffing needs across the state.
Governor Brown approved continued Oregon National Guard deployments to the understaffed hospital missions and the Oregon State Hospital through the end of December. Guard members who have been serving at the hospital have a two-week break from Nov. 14 to Dec. 1, but will return to serve until Dec. 31.
The steps taken this week are part of larger efforts to support the state’s behavioral health workforce, which has long been understaffed and, like the healthcare workforce in every state, has experienced increased resignations due to compassion fatigue, increased pressure, and childcare issues throughout the pandemic
Oregon has made more than $50 million available to behavioral health providers in recent months, as a surge in COVID-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant, impacted the workforce while the demand for mental health and substance use treatment increased.
The Oregon Health Authority has awarded $6 million in grants available with an additional $9 million being provided soon to help behavioral health residential providers retain direct service staff. Funds can be used to pay for: hiring and retention bonuses for current, newly hired, or returning staff for up to $2,000 per staff person; additional staff for supervision or relief shifts and other investments to improve working conditions.
In addition, the state has paid approximately $30 million in vacancy payments to residential behavioral health programs to ease financial burdens due to the inadequate staffing and social distancing challenges that providers have confronted during the pandemic. These payments will go through Dec. 31, and Oregon is considering an extension. The state is requesting to extend a 10 percent rate increase for residential treatment programs through the end of the year. To date, Oregon has expended approximately $13 million in funds in temporary rate increases.
Steve Allen, OHA’s director of behavioral health, said: “Counselors and other workers in behavioral health programs across Oregon are a lifeline for people and families grappling with depression, substance use and many other issues. They do lifesaving work every day. We owe them our gratitude and support. We’re doing everything we can to recognize and reward their vital work.”