SALEM - The critically short-staffed Oregon State Hospital will spend up to $1.2 million for 30 members of the National Guard to serve meals and care for patients at its Salem campus this summer.
A contract between the hospital and the Oregon Military Department, provided in response to a request from Salem Reporter, shows the hospital is spending about $17,800 per day for members of the guard to perform tasks typically assigned to entry-level employees without medical certification.
Those costs include wages for the guard members as well as meal costs and hotel payments for those who live outside of the Salem area.
Hospital leaders requested the guard’s assistance in late May as the number of employees on leave because of childcare responsibilities or other Covid-related causes soared. It was the first such request in the hospital’s history.
The state hospital cares for about 500 Oregonians with severe mental illnesses 24 hours per day and must maintain minimum staffing levels. That’s led to an increase in mandated overtime, when employees are required to work extra shifts.
The hospital has been short of nurses and other employees in large part because of the pandemic. Workers have generally taken leave because they don’t have childcare or need to care for relatives, Gipson-King said.
On June 21, the hospital had 20% of nursing staff out on Covid-related leave, hospital spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King said, with some taking leave part-time and some full-time. That's down from about 33% out on leave in May when hospital leaders initially requested guard help.
Guard members were assigned to the hospital for training on June 7. Gipson-King said they’re expected to begin their duties working with patients on June 24.
The hospital will cover the cost of the guard deployment out of its general fund, Gipson-King said. The Salem hospital’s operating budget for the 2019-21 biennium was $505 million.
The guard members’ assignment is scheduled to end July 31, but the contract lasts through August 13. That’s to allow the guard’s aid to be extended if needed without drawing up a new contract, said Maj. Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the Oregon Military Department.