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OR Nurse Advice Line Plagued by Understaffing


Monday, November 22, 2021   

PORTLAND, Ore. - Nurses provide a range of care, and not all of it is delivered in person. The Providence RN Medical Advice Line is a phone number Providence members in Oregon and Washington can call any time, day or night.

But staff shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic have meant nurses can't help patients in a timely manner.

Calls to the advice line vary in urgency and can include folks who have recently had surgery and parents who need guidance when their child is sick in the middle of the night.

Dawn Bryan, a nurse and a member of Oregon Nurses Association who works on the advice line, said reassuring people is a big part of the job, but that can be hard when it takes days to get back to someone.

"It's really significantly impacting people who have real questions and needs from the nurse advice line," said Bryan. "They're going to urgent cares and the ER because they don't know what to do, because it takes a day and a half or longer for us to get back to them."

A spokesperson for Providence said it's experiencing major staffing shortages just like other health systems across the country.

Heidi Sweeney, a nurse and an Oregon Nurses Association member who also works on the advice line, said they have seen more than double the normal amount of calls because of COVID-19 and understaffing.

She said many nurses are feeling burnt out and that she and her union have presented solutions to Providence.

"The first step is to utilize the staff we already have," said Sweeney. "Utilizing the staff we already have through incentives would be an amazing way to encourage people to step up, take some extra hours and also just acknowledge the value that they have."

Sweeney said Providence hasn't yet accepted any of their proposals. The health system says it's working to acquire and retain staff by intensifying its recruiting efforts and with cash incentives and bonuses for caregivers.

Sweeney said unfortunately, the importance of their work often is overlooked.

"We are not somewhere that the powers that be can see what we do," said Sweeney. "And the workload that we have is not visible. And so, we are not receiving value for what we do at all."

Disclosure: Oregon Nurses Association (AFT Local 5905) contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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