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National Guard asked to help with 'dire' staffing shortage at Oregon State Hospital

The number of hospital staff out on COVID-related leave has increased dramatically since February.

SALEM, Ore. — Significant staffing shortages at the Oregon State Hospital prompted health officials to call for the National Guard’s assistance at the psychiatric facility this week.

The state's health authority, which oversees the hospital, requested 30 nurses from the National Guard. The governor’s office has not reached a decision on whether to fill that request. 

The state also asked for volunteers from other agencies.

“We need your help,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen wrote on Tuesday to state employees. “OHA has exhausted all other staffing options for the hospital’s Salem Campus, and our circumstances are dire.” So far only two people are in the pipeline as a result of that request according to spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King.

Officials say the hospital, which employs 1,800 people and has more than 600 patients, is full and temporarily stopped new admissions.

The hospital treats some of the state’s most vulnerable: those found guilty except for insanity, civil commitment patients, and those ordered to the hospital by a judge on aid and assist orders.

The staffing crisis at the hospital has persisted on and off throughout the pandemic. But the number of staff out on coronavirus-related leave has increased dramatically since February.

Hospital Superintendent Dolly Matteucci told state lawmakers earlier this month that nearly 700 employees had taken some form of COVID-19 leave and from February to March there was a 45% increase in direct-care staff taking leave.

Matteucci told hospital supervisors Tuesday they would be required to work weekend shifts on patient units starting this weekend and continuing through July 4.

“Just last week, we had approximately 33% of our nursing staff out on COVID-related leave," Matteucci wrote to staff.

In his plea to state employees, Allen wrote the hospital especially needs state employees with nursing experience or familiarity with behavioral health.

“However, anyone who has good people skills is encouraged to volunteer for an emergency assignment,” he said. “The need is great, and any assistance you can provide will better enable [state hospital] staff to do their most critical work – patient care.”

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