Despite a nationwide nursing staff shortage and a scarcity of local rental properties, the Samaritan Health Services hospitals in Lincoln County are finding ways to cope.
CEO Lesley Ogden, MD, who oversees both Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital and Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, said the public has stepped forward with offers of available rental properties. In addition, hospital management is working diligently to continue to provide appropriate staffing levels, and the local community college is working to educate the next wave of nurse graduates.
“Nurse staffing is a nationwide issue and virtually every hospital is experiencing some kind of staffing issues,” Dr. Ogden explained. “Many issues have gotten us here including an aging workforce, recent retirements and not enough nursing school graduates to fill the holes. Some of this was worsened by the COVID pandemic, with additional people leaving medicine altogether.”
Another impact on nurse staffing levels in Lincoln County is the lack of available short-term housing for temporary or traveling agency nurses. To offset this, Samaritan has secured apartment space and RV spots in Lincoln City and Newport to sublease to traveling staff and others.
“If there is nowhere for agency staff to live, they won’t come work for us unless we can find a solution,” Dr. Ogden said. “We are grateful to have these rental units not only for traveling nursing staff, but also for use by our medical students, medical residents and as a short-term landing spot for new hires in hard-to-fill positions while they look for permanent housing in our community. But the acute need is to find homes for travelers to fill our vacancies.”
On the topic of staff vacancies, Dr. Ogden specifically discussed staffing levels in the hospitals’ Intensive Care Unit. When there are gaps in the ICU nurse schedule, the number of ICU patients that can be admitted is reduced. The ratio for ICU care is one nurse for every two patients. In Medical-Surgical units, the ratio is one nurse for every four patients. Dr. Ogden praises her managers and staff for their willingness to be flexible in their staffing assignments to help cover any shortages.
“We are making day-by-day decisions based on staffing and our intent is to fill these positions with permanent ICU nurses. We just need time to do it,” she said. “As federally-designated critical access hospitals, we are charged with improving access to health care by keeping essential services in rural communities, and we fully intend to meet that obligation.”