SALEM, Ore. — Nurses and union representatives are asking lawmakers for more help caring for the mentally ill at both the Salem and Portland campuses of the Oregon State Hospital.
Violence at the hospital has reached unacceptable levels, hospital staffers tell The Statesman Journal. They attribute the problem to having too few staff to take care of the patients.
Data from the hospital shows that in 2012, 66 patients and staff have been injured by hospital patients, as of the end of July. Fifty of those injuries were inflicted on staff.
Hospital superintendent Greg Roberts said the number of injuries has been declining for two years, but it still concerns him.
"No levels of violence are acceptable at all," he said.
The nursing department at the state hospital is budgeted for 990 nurses. The original state budget for 2011-13 allocated enough money for 1,065 positions, but Gov. Kitzhaber's budget dropped it down to its current level in May 2011.
On top of trying to fill routine vacancies, the nurses and other staff are required to take 14 furlough days each during the biennium, leaving even more shifts uncovered.
So far, the hospital has rearranged shifts, used overtime staff to cover for people taking furloughs and brought in temporary nurses, but staff said these solutions bring their own problems.
Nurse Faith Faddis, who has worked for the hospital in Portland for five years, said one major problem is having too few trained staff to cover violent incidents or emergencies. During an emergency, nurses and staff from another unit typically pitch in to help deal with the patient having the problem. Right now, however, one emergency is enough to leave other units with only one staff member watching the patients, which leads to problems, she said.
The lack of staff and lack of institutional knowledge about the patients is leading to an overly violent workplace, she said, adding that patients become violent every day.
Faddis said she has not been hurt by any patients, but has had items thrown at her by patients.
Union representatives and staff met with Rep. Lew Frederick; D-Portland, Rep. Jim Thompson; R-Dallas, and Rep. Val Hoyle, D-West Eugene, on Wednesday and Thursday.
Faddis said her goal was to help the hospital reach safe staffing levels, for the sake of staff and patients.
"They're so sick that they can't be anywhere else," she said.