Oregon State Hospital staffing in question

From the Associated Press, March 20 2009

Following sharp criticism that included a tough report from the U.S. Justice Department, Oregon leaders have been planning to add employees, open a modern institution and close the existing Oregon State Hospital.

Then along came the big recession and the state budget hole.

Oregon State Hospital

Oregon State Hospital

The crowded, understaffed hospital has added 300 new employees in the past year, said OSH Superintendent Roy Orr.

The Legislature now must decide if the financially strapped state can afford to add hundreds more in the next biennium, and, if not, will it cripple ongoing reform-minded efforts.

A new 620-bed complex, described by state leaders as world-class, is scheduled to open next year and become fully operational in late 2011.

Adequate staffing is said to be a key to success. But budget restrictions will make that hard to pay for the 500 to nearly 1,000 new employees deemed necessary by Orr and other officials.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s recommended 2009-11 budget earmarked $43 million for state hospital staffing, far below the $124 million outlined last November in a proposed budget package.

If legislators go along with the lesser amount, Orr said, the hospital could hire about 540 new employees in 2009-2011.

“It was reduced given the condition of the economy and the state budget, Orr said in a recent interview, referring to the governors proposed funding level.

“We’re certainly not isolated from those things. We still don’t know what the Legislature will approve. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. I just feel at this point that it will be a challenge for this organization to deal with the opening of the new hospital with a reduced number (of staff) as exists in the governor’s recommended budget. But it all depends on what the Legislature ultimately approves,” he told the Salem Statesman Journal newspaper.

Senate President Peter Courtney said hospital staffing remains a high priority but he can’t make any promises about specific increases for 2009-11.

“We are in a heck of a crisis, he said, “I’m scared to death because of what’s coming in May with the new (revenue) forecast. I’m frightened.

“I’ve just seen the beautiful drawings of what they hope the new hospital is going to look like. But if you don’t have enough staff, then we probably won’t be any better off out there than we’ve been before.”

The Legislature previously agreed to spend $458 million to replace the dilapidated hospital in Salem and build a second hospital in Junction City. The state will use bonds to finance construction of a 620-bed hospital in Salem and a 360-bed hospital in Junction City.

State funding for additional hospital staffing in the 2009-11 budget period, which starts July 1, would come from the general fund budget, which also pays for schools, prisons, parks and many other state programs and services. Concerns about potential costs for state hospital staffing have been simmering since November.

Since then, the recession has intensified doubts about the states ability to pay.

State officials have discussed taking a longer-term funding approach to staffing.

Under one scenario, the kind of staffing envisioned by Orr would occur in phases.

Orr said its too early to say how staggered staff increases might impact operations, patient care and safety at the new psychiatric hospital.

Orr said the hospital needs more workers before the new hospital opens.

Orr said the hospital is on track to spend about $25 million in overtime pay during the 2007-09 budget period ending June 30.

“Without adequate staffing,” he said, “we’ll just forever rely on overtime, and we know how expensive and in some cases how dangerous that can be.”