A legislative budget panel on Friday approved a $39.5 million package to tackle Oregon’s hospital capacity crisis, adding nurses to ease bottlenecks that force patients to wait for life-saving care.
Though COVID-19 patients no longer overwhelm hospitals, short staffing means hospitals often can’t move patients to the appropriate level of care and patients spend days in emergency room beds. Meanwhile, bed shortages at nursing homes mean patients ready to be discharged into them from hospitals are forced to wait.
In some cases, patients have died waiting for transfer to a higher level of care, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told the House Health Care Committee on Thursday, one day before the budget panel took up requests from the authority and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
“In at least a few cases, people died waiting for that higher level of care, so this really is a crisis that we’re facing,” Allen said.
Nursing homes also lack the capacity and staff to accept hospital patients who are ready to be discharged. “If we could sort of un-jam the system,” Allen said, about 700 patients could either be discharged from a hospital into a facility with a lower level of care or moved from an emergency room bed to a regular hospital bed, The nearly $40 million OK’d by lawmakers includes contracted nurses to bolster staffing at hospitals and long-term care facilities. It also funds incentives for facilities that accept discharged hospital patients and other help for providers.
Becky Hultberg, president and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said the move will bring relief to the system and help patients access care.
“This funding will help relieve the capacity crisis in our hospitals, preserving access to lifesaving care,” Hultberg said in a statement. “We still have much work to do, but this is a great start.”
The funds will only last about six months. So lawmakers expect to hear about the issue in the 2023 session, said Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland and chair of the House Health Care Committee.
“That this is a little bit of a stop-gap for the moment, and I don’t think we’ve got a really great sense of how long staffing challenges are going to last,” Nosse said before the Legislature’s Emergency Board voted unanimously on the funding.
In all, the package brings in $34.9 million in state general funding and $4.6 million in matching federal funding. The Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Human Services requested it after consulting with the health care industry. Last month The Lund Report first reported on the existence of the proposed package.
- $14.9 million for contract nurses to support long-term care facilities for six months.
- $6.9 million for nurse staffing contracts to support hospitals. Hospitals will contribute 25% toward the cost, making $8.7 million available. It will provide an estimated 50 nurses for a six-month period.
- $4.2 million in incentives for adult foster homes, residential care facilities and in-home care agencies who accept patients ready to leave hospitals and nursing homes. Providers will get $5,000 for each patient. This will generate another $1.8 million in federal matching funds.
- $4.4 million for respite shelter beds contracts for individuals who no longer need hospital-level care or nursing home care.
- $1.5 million to provide grants to long-term care providers who are at risk of closure and reaching underserved groups, such as rural communities and people of color.
- $1.5 million for increased payments to providers who serve adults with mental health needs in residential facilities that give enhanced around-the-clock services. This will leverage another $2 million in federal Medicaid matching funds.
- $800,000 to contract with behavioral health facilities for people who need that care after they exit hospitals. This is expected to generate an $800,000 federal match.
- $750,000 for patient transfer coordination among hospitals. The money will allow the Oregon Medical Coordination Center, which shepherds statewide patient transfers with critical needs, to hire more staff and better track beds and coordinate transfers.