Oregon Department of Human Services Director's Message
December 12, 2008 DHS Director's messages on the web
To: All DHS employees
From: Bruce Goldberg, M.D., director
Improving nurse staffing at OSH

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
~Pablo Picasso

Something that never fails to impress me is how well we do at DHS when we put our heads together to tackle a problem. This week I want to share two ways we are addressing the issue of nurse staffing shortages at the Oregon State Hospital.

As we're all aware, nurse staffing is a national problem. Estimates are that Oregon will experience a 44 percent vacancy rate for nurses by the year 2020 if health care providers don't do a better job training, hiring and retaining nurses. I have good news on those fronts for OSH.

This Saturday six remarkable state hospital employees will graduate from Portland Community College. Eighteen months ago OSH and these graduates joined the "N2K" program, which put these current hospital employees on a fast track to earn an R.N. degree at Portland Community College. The hospital paid their tuition and, in return, they agreed to provide nursing services to OSH for a minimum of 30 months.

This is an innovative program that will help ensure our clients get the best care possible, give OSH staff members an opportunity to earn an academic degree and begin a new career, and provide the hospital with an invaluable tool to develop and grow its own professional nursing workforce. I also am pleased to say that this first class was so successful that a second program for OSH employees is under way in partnership with Clackamas Community College.

Congratulations to our new nurses Dagmar Amrein, Heather Matthews, Marcie Nellist, Melanie Pension, Forrest Stewart and Chong Vang. And thank you to their supervisors and co-workers for their support and encouragement.

But there is more. To address the backlog of hiring nurses, OSH turned to the tools learned from the ongoing Transformation Initiative. It had been taking up to 80 days to finalize the hiring of a new nurse at the hospital. Clearly, something had to change for OSH to have a chance in the competitive market for hiring nurses.

So the hospital brought in two newly trained "Lean Leaders" to work with a team of OSH administrators, nurses and human resources staff members to start from scratch and look at what was working -- and what was not -- in the nurse hiring process. The results were stunning.

By eliminating unnecessary steps and doing a better job of organizing applicant interviews, the team already has reduced the time it takes to hire a nurse from 80 to 40 days and shortly will reach their goal of a seven-day hiring cycle. With success like that, OSH is now setting a very aggressive goal of reducing the nursing vacancy rate from 22 percent to 10 percent in 2009. I am confident they are well on their way to meeting that target.

One lesson learned from these successes is that when it comes to improving client services we cannot afford to wait. The new state hospitals will be state-of-the-art and will make attracting professionals easier. But we need nurses now and cannot wait for things to get better in the future.

These kinds of actions to improve processes are happening across the agency, and next week I'll talk more about other successes we have had using the tools we've learned from the Transformation Initiative.

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