OHSU Fires Group of Telehealth Nurses It Lauded During COVID-19

Patient-facing employees are supposed to be spared, when possible, OHSU has said.

Employees protest at an OHSU board meeting on June 28. (Jake Nelson)

As part of wide-ranging job cuts, Oregon Health & Science University this week cut a telehealth nursing unit set up during the COVID-19 pandemic that was featured on the OHSU Foundation website for its service to people across the state.

OHSU started the Connected Care Center on March 30, 2020, just as the pandemic began. It was open only to OHSU patients before opening to the public shortly afterward. Nurses worked from home, taking calls about testing locations, quarantining, and care for the disease, according to a June 2021 write-up by OHSU.

Since the pandemic, the 16 nurses in the unit had been supporting OHSU’s clinics and triaging patient calls, according to an employee who wished to remain anonymous.

OHSU is in the midst of cutting some 500 positions, including nurses, as part of a “strategic alignment” despite repeated vows from management to spare most “patient-facing” employees.

“Cutting nurses is confirmation that OHSU executives will not limit their layoffs to non-patient-facing positions,” said Duncan Zevetski, a registered nurse and vice president at the Oregon Nurses Association, which represents 4,500 OHSU employees. “Their cuts will reduce Oregonians’ access to care and ultimately make it harder for more people to get the care they need when they need it.”

OHSU has cut a total of 22 nurses in recent days, the union said.

The layoffs come as OHSU pursues a merger with Legacy Health, another hospital system that is struggling with high costs for salaries and supplies.

“The strategic alignment work aims to shift OHSU’s overall strategy to its core, state-mandated missions, including improving access to the complex specialty and subspecialty services that no other health system in the region can provide,” university spokeswoman Sarah Hottman said in an email. “As a result, while planned reductions in force are largely administrative roles, other programs may be impacted as well.”

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