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Coronavirus Watch: Oregon nurses union calls for immediate action amid COVID-19 surge

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon's largest union for nurses delivered a list of demands to state leaders and hospital administrators on Thursday, as COVID-19 cases skyrocket and hospitalizations begin to rise again.

The Oregon Nurses Association called for immediate action, citing concerns that Oregon hospital systems will again be quickly overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients.

“We knew it was going to be bad and it is,” said Lynda Pond, RN, President of the ONA Board of Directors. “Hesitation, delays and failures to act are endangering lives and threatening our patients and frontline health care workers across the state. Action must be taken now to avert the worst possible outcomes of this surge.”

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ONA called on policymakers to take a number of actions, most of them directly related to safety measures within hospitals, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that frontline healthcare workers can adequately serve all their patients:

  • Implement N-95 mask requirements for frontline health care workers in facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. Maintain N-95 mask or equivalent requirements until effective testing, treatment and mitigations steps can be taken.
  • Reinforce occupational health teams to conduct internal hospital testing, perform exposure notifications, lead internal surveillance and oversee other rapid COVID-19 interventions.
  • Limit hospital visitors and ensure health care facilities have sufficient support staff to screen visitors, check vaccination status and provide adequate masks.
  • Significantly expand COVID-19 testing, reporting and exposure notifications across the state to ensure health care workers and the public can access COVID-19 tests quickly and easily.
  • Add frontline nurses, health care workers and staff to hospital emergency response committees so operational decisions include nurses’ expertise and real-time information.
  • Increase mental health supports for frontline nurses and caregivers including investing in employee assistance programs, offering caregivers mental health days and expanding access to specialized mental health counseling for nurses through the Oregon Wellness Program.
  • Retain Oregon’s best, experienced nurses and caregivers by investing in retention bonuses and critical shift incentives. These crucial measures help properly recognize and value experienced frontline nurses and caregivers are being asked to jeopardize their own health and safety to care for sick Oregonians while being given inadequate resources and support.
  • Devote additional state support to investigate OSHA workplace safety complaints filed by nurses and caregivers.

"These actions are critical to combat omicron’s exponential spread and avoid the worst-case projections, which could leave many Oregonians without access to adequate medical care," the union said. "ONA calls on every Oregon health care system to staff up now and to listen to and support the frontline nurses and health care workers who keep our health system running. Oregonians can’t wait any longer for state leaders and hospital administrators to act."

ONA also urged Oregonians to get their COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as soon as possible, mask up indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces, avoid large gatherings, stay home if sick, and get tested if concerned.

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