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Planning for the Potential Public Health Impacts of August Eclipse

As reported by The Lund Report, a million or more people could visit Oregon during the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017 and that influx of visitors can have an impact on our communities, from traffic jams preventing emergency vehicles from getting through to inadequate sanitation options for the large influx of tourists.

Hospitals and clinics could see an increase in patients during the time around the eclipse, particularly in the rural parts of the state that are in the solar eclipse path of totality, providing the best view of the eclipse and the most likely areas where the tourists will congregate.

To prepare, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) are building lists of emergency resources to share with hospitals and emergency services. As nurses, it is important we are informed so we can be prepared for the possible impacts to ensure the health of our communities.

Nurse Staffing and the Eclipse

In response to concerns about the impact that the upcoming eclipse may have on hospital census, the Oregon Health Authority has expanded their direction to facilities. The new release includes information that states hospitals may use their facility disaster plan to require mandatory overtime during the days leading up to, including, and following the eclipse. The exact language, included on their webpage, can be found in the Nurse Staffing FAQ.

It is ONA’s position that using mandatory overtime in this circumstance is a violation of the law. The date of the eclipse has been known for decades, providing ample time for preparation for the event. It is not calamitous, unexpected or sudden. Staffing plans are required to be based on patient need which includes projected census numbers. While there is no certainty about the effect of the eclipse, advanced planning and guidance has been in place for months by EMS, law enforcement, Oregon Department of Transportation and public health agencies.

ONA supports and recommends that hospital staffing committees that haven’t already planned for this event quickly implement a range of strategies to ensure that an increase in census can be managed and patients receive the care they need. Those recommendations include: asking for volunteers to work extra shifts, cancelling elective procedures, implementing flexible shift lengths, the use of voluntary call, providing incentive pay for extra shifts, utilizing non-clinical staff to assist with phone answering and other activities, and utilizing travel nurse agencies.

Nurses should actively engage in planning for this event to better staff units without implementing mandatory overtime. Also, keep your own documentation of hours you were required to work beyond your agreed upon shift.

As always, your first obligation is to provide care within your knowledge, skill and ability which includes insuring that fatigue is not negatively affecting your practice.

It is our recommendation that members be encouraged to speak out about ways to better staff their units than implementing mandatory overtime. If facilities do try to enforce mandatory overtime, we advise nurses to work the required shifts and consider filing grievances, as applicable, and OHA complaints after the fact

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Oregon Nurses Association
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(503) 293-0011 or 800-634-3552 (Oregon Only)