OCN hosts weekly meeting with nursing leaders to discuss declining workforce

The Oregon Center for Nursing (OCN) hosts a weekly meeting called the Friday Huddle during which nursing leaders, educators, and stakeholders talk through Oregon’s nursing workforce issues. This Zoom call met this Friday to discuss the reasons for workforce shortages and the role of new nursing graduates.


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Friday Huddle started in 2020 for members of OCN to share their challenges and successes throughout the pandemic and has since grown into a community with a mission to “facilitate research and collaboration for Oregon’s nursing workforce.” 

Melody Routley, RN program manager at Kaiser Permanente, said:

“I huddle to gain validation that my organization is not alone in our response to the COVID pandemic and to get new information to share with my department.”

Casey Shillam, school of nursing dean at the University of Portland, also commented on the usefulness of Friday Huddles:

“I appreciate OCN doing this to provide us a platform to be informed about the unfolding details that impact our ability to operate our organizations and provide care to the people of Oregon.”

In this week’s gathering, the group started discussing  why the workforce is short on staff. Kelley Ilic, operations manager at OCN, said this is due to the shortage of contract labor. Facilities were able to handle workforce shortages before the pandemic with contract work, but without it, hospitals are struggling. 

Kecia Kelly, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Legacy Health, said contractors are always harder to find in the summer, but during COVID, hospitals get into bidding wars for travel nurses, which in turn makes travel nursing more popular and leads to a greater loss in workforce. 

Staffing issues are not just evident in lower-level staff and nurses. Managers and other leaders have needed to assist patients due to reduced nursing workforce instead of doing their regular managerial duties. 

Anne Hansen, director of Asante’s Nursing Professional Development, said when managers work on the floor, their managerial work continues piling up and the stress of their workload causes them to leave. The solution, she says, is for them to try to find assistance with their managerial work to ease their workload, allowing them to help more patients.

Hansen also talked about the role of new graduates in addressing the nursing workforce shortage. Though new nurses are trained to be in hospital settings, Hansen said there are many jobs within the hospital that require additional expertise — often learned on the job from more experienced nurses. 

However, since the decrease in workforce, there is no one to train new nurses, and placing them into bigger roles without expertise has become a necessity. Hansen said it takes about two to three years to become competent and efficient in a new and bigger role. She thinks new strategies need to be considered to fix this issue. 

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘What other models can we use?,’ and then normalize those models, to optimize the practice.”

Shillam continued to highlight the fluidity of the decisions being made concerning where students and recent graduates can and cannot work. She also shared her thoughts on the reduced teaching workforce and the lack of clinical practices for students to learn. 

“Just like everything else, we are increasing in complexity with everything we are facing right now.”

In response to Shillam’s comments, Cynthia McDaniel, CEO at Elderwise, said the role of the nurse has to be rethought entirely to incentivize them to stay, especially in community-based care centers. The more non-nurses or new nurses are filling nursing roles, the more the role of the nurse diminishes, she said. 

“We have to think about how we recognize that nursing role within community-based care.”