Senate Gives Unanimous Approval to Nurse Staffing Law Changes

The legislation backed by the Oregon Nurses Association gives teeth to the state’s hospital nurse staffing committees, which were set up 10 years ago to set hospital support staff levels based on patient need, but have not always been taken seriously.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that gives teeth to hospital nurse staffing committees, providing a coup for the Oregon Nurses Association, which made Senate Bill 469 its top priority this session.

Before the session, the state’s largest nurses’ union argued that many Oregon hospitals, particularly the ones that are not unionized, were disregarding the recommendations of their nurse staffing committees and assigning nurses and support staff primarily bent on maximizing hospital profits.

These committees were set up 10 years ago to guide support staffing levels at hospitals for optimal patient safety. The committees are split in composition between labor and management, giving both sides equal power in decision-making.

SB 469 gives the recommendations of the staffing committees the force of law, and requires that all hospitals be audited every three years for compliance, the same timeframe that hospitals already comply with for licensure renewals.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems initially fought an updated law, but perhaps seeing that the cards were falling in favor of the Oregon Nurses Association, struck a face-saving deal with the union that makes clear that hospitals will not be required to follow state-mandated labor quotas under any condition.

“This bill keeps staffing decisions where they should be, with the nurses and nurse managers,” said Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, the chief Senate sponsor.

The original SB 469 called for temporary quotas only when staffing committees failed to reach an agreement; now impasses will be resolved with mediation.

“We went through a long and productive process with the hospital association and had a really good bill, and I think that speaks for itself,” said Sarah Baessler, a lobbyist for the nurses’ union.

The hospital association also cited the administrative simplicity called for in SB 469 as a reason to support the bill. “Hospitals appreciate the new predictability that will come with nurse staffing audits timed to coincide with regular hospital licensure visits, as well as set timelines for investigation of nurse staffing complaints,” wrote hospital lobbyist Andi Easton earlier this month, when the bill was heard in the Committee on Ways & Means.

The Oregon Health Authority will have 60 days to investigate after a complaint is filed, and a report must be filed with the hospital and both the labor and management chairs of the staffing committee. The budget committee also authorized $553,000 for the health authority to enforce SB 469, by conducting audits and investigating complaints.

SB 469 now goes to the House, where easy passage is expected. The bill has not received a single negative vote at any step of the way.

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