Oregon lawmakers sent letter to FEMA requesting “additional personnel” to help staff hospitals

Members of the Oregon congressional delegation implored the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide additional personnel to assist the state’s hospitals as COVID cases and hospitalizations increase. The letter addressed the “acute staffing need” of Oregon hospitals as hospital capacity and staffing are stretched thin. 

 

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The letter was signed by lawmakers including Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Rep. Peter DeFazio, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Rep. Kurt Schrader, and Rep. Cliff Bentz. 

The lawmakers are following up on a letter sent by Gov. Kate Brown on August 13, 2021 “requesting FEMA medical personnel to aid in the state’s response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.” The congressional delegation letter urges FEMA to fulfil the request swiftly to provide additional personnel to in-need Oregon hospitals. 

“As a result [of strained hospital workforce capacity], the state hospital and health care systems are facing an acute staffing need. State officials estimate that the current surge in cases is likely to exceed hospital capacity by 400-500 beds in a matter of weeks … Governor Brown is requesting FEMA provide additional personnel to ensure Oregonians get the care that they need during this critical time.”

These actions aim to suppress the increasing rise of COVID cases and hospitalizations in Oregon. CNBC reports that Oregon, along with four other states, broke records over the weekend for their seven-day average number of daily new COVID cases. Oregon’s average sits at 39 average daily cases per 100,000 residents, which is about as high as it was during the peak of the pandemic. 

In the last two weeks, from August 8 through August 14, 371 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 with 45 of those patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). As of Tuesday morning, 863 total hospital beds are occupied by COVID patients, which represents around 18% of all adult beds. 226 COVID patients are in the ICU and 128 are on ventilators. Only 66 adult ICU beds are available in Oregon. 

In response to Oregon’s workforce and staffing crisis, Gov. Brown announced last week the deployment of up to 1,500 Oregon National Guard troops — starting with an initial 500 beginning August 20 — to hospitals to assist frontline health care professionals facing the surge of hospitalizations. 

According to Charles Boyle, deputy communications officer for the Office of Gov. Brown, Oregon National Guard members will serve in nonclinical roles doing things like handling materials, running equipment, assisting with COVID-19 testing, doing laundry, and assisting custodial services. The Oregon National Guard is prepared to support more than 20 hospitals across the state. Gov. Brown says:

“… I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care. When our hospitals are full with COVID-19 patients, there may not be room for someone needing care after a car crash, a heart attack, or other emergency situation. I know this is not the summer many of us envisioned, with over 2.5 million Oregonians vaccinated against COVID-19. The harsh, and frustrating reality is that the Delta variant has changed everything. Delta is highly contagious, and we must take action now.”