Oregon governor signs historic safe staffing bill into law

On Aug. 15, Gov. Tina Kotek signed House Bill 2697 into law, cementing a historic safe staffing victory for the state’s healthcare workers and the patients they care for. Members of the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP) made the achievement possible. The new law represents the most dramatic legislative improvement in patient care in a generation and places Oregon at the forefront of the nation's safe staffing laws.

Photo of Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek with ONA and OFNHP members

“This landmark staffing bill is the first of its kind in the country and will hopefully pave the way to address short staffing in every state,” says OFNHP President Jonathon Baker. “The only way we won such a massive victory is by organizing our members directly from the shop floor and ensuring that our state’s legislators were able to hear our voices. When healthcare workers come together and speak up, we are incredibly powerful.”

The legislation addresses the following issues: establishment of minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, wall-to-wall staffing committees, investigations and enforcement when hospitals fail to follow the law, and the elimination of the “buddy break system,” which causes nurses to have double the patient load when another nurse takes a break. While the new legislation makes great improvements to working conditions for some frontline caregivers, nurses and clinicians believe there is much more to be done.

“ONA’s fight for safe staffing doesn’t end with the passage of this law. Our nurses and caregivers know what patients need at our hospital and care settings,” says ONA Executive Director Anne Tan Piazza. “We will continue to fight for improvements in our collective bargaining agreements and in Oregon law.”

Photo of Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signing House Bill 2697 into law with ONA and OFNHP members

Oregon’s legislation sets a precedent; for the first time in any state, the statute includes specified nurse-to-patient ratios for a wide range of acute care settings, including emergency departments, intensive care units, labor and delivery units, operating rooms, and others.

“This is a groundbreaking day for a groundbreaking bill that will make hospitals and healthcare settings safer for Oregon’s patients and staff alike. It will save lives and put Oregon at the forefront of safe staffing laws in the nation so patients receive the care and attention they need, and nurses aren’t subject to crushing workloads and inevitable burnout,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Gov. Kotek’s signature means putting patient and healthcare worker safety ahead of profits is now the law of the land in Oregon. We hope other states follow suit in this effort to address the ongoing crises facing our nurse and healthcare workforce.”

To date, a number of states have considered healthcare staffing legislation. Connecticut and Washington were among the states that made significant gains this year toward ensuring patient safety and high-quality care by enacting legislation to address staffing. More states are expected to introduce similar legislation early next year.

Allison Seymour, a registered nurse and ONA board secretary, expresses gratitude for the leadership of state Reps. Rob Nosse and Travis Nelson who championed the bill. Seymour says unsafe staffing was the reason she left the bedside and the reason she felt compelled to help pass the new law. “Not having enough nurses isn’t just bad for nurses, it is bad for patients and hospitals; and these issues were at the very heart of what H.B. 2697 was focused on addressing,” says Seymour. “I was proud to have advocated for the passage of H.B. 2697, and I am proud to be one of the many nurses who will be returning to the bedside now that we have the protections of this historic bill.”

The bill takes effect on Sept. 1, 2023, and agencies can begin rulemaking.

[Adrienne Coles, ONA press release]