Hiring boom has not relieved workers from long, stressful hours
As double-digit unemployment hammers this state, the crowded and understaffed Oregon State Hospital is in the midst of a hiring boom, potentially leading to the largest staffing expansion in the hospital’s long, checkered history.
So far, the hospital has filled about 170 of 527 new positions authorized by state legislators in a $36 million package aimed at fixing severe understaffing, which has festered for decades.
But hiring has lagged on the front lines of patient care at the 627-bed, 1,280-employee mental institution in central Salem, providing no relief for workers reeling from spiraling use of mandatory overtime.
For direct-care staffers, known as mental health therapists and technicians in hospital parlance, the hiring boom has morphed into a morale-busting mirage.
“Staff are tired, worn out, cranky. There is a huge undercurrent of anger,” said Brant Johnson, a mental health therapist who serves as a nonvoting member on a new state hospital advisory board.
Last month, dozens of workers staged a demonstration on the hospital grounds, carrying protest signs and chanting slogans against mandatory overtime.
State leaders said they sympathize with the plight of overworked staffers, and they promise to speed up hiring of new front-line personnel.
“We have overcrowded conditions, and we’re understaffed,” said Richard Harris, director of the Addictions and Mental Health Division of the state Department of Humans Services. “I believe that it’s a very stressful environment to have to do these kinds of mandatory overtimes.”
To bolster the front-line ranks, Harris said he expects the hospital to hire 60 mental health therapists and technicians within three months.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said fast-track hiring is crucial.
“It is a crisis situation,” he said. “We’re desperately trying to relieve their burdens, their work loads, as well as to deal with the stress and pressure in their lives. We’ve got to get more of them, and we’ve got to get them fast.”