Building bridges to better public policy

Perspective on Oregon Health Care

by Becky Hultberg

Heading into this year’s legislative session, Oregon’s community hospitals faced historic challenges: a staffing crisis, an inability to discharge hospitalized patients to other care settings and a steep rise in the cost of nearly everything from utility bills to labor, to pharmaceutical drugs. While our state has a proud legacy of providing great health care, the events of the last three years laid bare foundational problems that could threaten the stability of the health care system Oregonians rely on. 

With hospitals still reeling from the pandemic and economic headwinds like inflation adding to their strain, we set ambitious public policy goals to ensure Oregonians would have access to the care they deserve now and into the future. But there are no quick fixes, and with so much on the line, we knew we couldn’t meet this moment alone. 

In pursuit of solutions, we began to work in partnership with lawmakers and labor to address the needs of both hospitals and staff. Together, we worked to develop legislation that would not only begin to rebuild the health care workforce but also replace a nurse staffing law that didn’t work well for anyone. Through intensive negotiations and open communication, we were able to find common ground and make progress on both goals with a groundbreaking package of legislation. 

Our legislative package includes three bills that support hospitals and their staff and invest in growing the health care workforce in Oregon. The package also makes important progress in stabilizing hospital finances and repairing our broken continuum of care. 

The first bill in the package is H.B. 2697-B, which gives professional, technical and service health care workers a stronger voice in the creation of staffing plans and, in certain hospital units, establishes enforceable statutory nurse-to-patient ratios. This bill also creates pathways for staffing that preserve local decision making, reduce many administrative burdens that divert resources away from patient care and build key partnerships that will ensure access to care for patients in the future. 

To address statewide hospital staffing challenges, we also supported the passage of H.B. 3396-B, a $25 million workforce package that increases clinical education capacity at Oregon’s hospitals and health care facilities and supports the recruitment and retention of nurse faculty. This bill also creates a task force aimed at finding solutions for hospitals’ capacity and discharge challenges, so that patients can be in the best care settings for their needs. 

And by achieving the passage of H.B. 2045-A, we improved the state’s health care cost growth target program to allow hospitals and other health care providers to invest in their frontline staff without being held accountable for those costs. 

We are proud of the collaborative efforts that led to this legislation and grateful for the lawmakers, partners and allies who worked tirelessly to get this package across the finish line. While we may not have always agreed on every detail, we were united in our commitment to fighting for Oregon’s communities. With these bills passed, Oregon is on a path to building a stronger health care workforce that will help ensure our communities always have access to dependable, high-quality care.