A group of unionized nurses at the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, WA recently took a stand against a topic that many nurses all too well. Members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, American Federation of Teachers 5017 staged a rally on Monday against what they see as “bullying” from a certain manager at the facility.
The staffers say the hospital is putting more pressure on stressed-out nurses to pick up additional shifts and improve their work performance or quit.
The organizers called out management in the admitting ward, but they said the problem of “bullying” by managers is widespread at the facility, according to Kat Spencer, a patient access representative at Southwest.
And the bullying and harassment are interfering with the nurses’ ability to do their jobs.
“We are fighting for a safe work environment free of fear for our jobs, retaliation and bullying and a better work-life balance that ensures the health and safety of both the healthcare workers as well as the patients,” said Spencer in a union news release.
She explained that management is forcing workers to increase productivity due to the ongoing staffing crisis but increasing pressure on employees only drove more workers to quit, thus making the problem worse.
In response to the demonstration, the hospital said, “PeaceHealth is committed to ensuring that the rally does not impact patient care. Our focus remains on providing safe, high-quality, and compassionate care to the people in our region. As we’ve discussed with the union, and consistent with state and federal labor laws, all rally activities must take place outside of the medical center and on neutral spaces, such as public sidewalks.”
Records show the hospital doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to retention.
Over the past two years, nearly all of the hospital’s roughly 90 patient access representatives have quit. The union sent a stern warning to the hospital ahead of the demonstration.
“If these workplace conditions are allowed to continue, it could further exacerbate this staffing crisis and spell a disaster for patient care,” the statement said.
Patient access representatives are tasked with entering information about patients into the hospital’s electronic record system. Some 43 representatives in the Southwest admitting department are all represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. The union wants to alter the employment terms for dozens of different types of employees, including medical assistants, cafeteria, and laundry workers, before the current contract expires next year.
Patient access representatives are among the lowest-paid workers at the facility. They make anywhere from $16.58 to $24.90 an hour, depending on the number of years of experience.
The union recently filed a grievance with the hospital for allegedly violating the terms of the employment contract by creating unsafe working conditions.
Spencer said management has subtly been putting more pressure on nurses over the last few years. She said her supervisors told her to increase her shift availability or she would be fired.
She also said the managers also conduct “investigatory meetings” that often result in findings against workers.
“My co-workers are exhausted and most of them have left,” Spencer said. She said she stays on because she loves her job. “The only thing bad about my job is my manager,” she said.
Other PeaceHealth and Southwest facilities have faced similar allegations over the last few months. Workers at three hospitals, including Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in Springfield, Sacred Heart Medical Center University District in Eugene, OR, and St. John Medical Center in Longview, WA, have all filed complaints over unsafe working conditions.
This comes as the Service Employees International Union, which includes dietary workers, certified nursing assistants, and housekeeping staff, gets ready to negotiate a new contract with the health network.
Like many other hospital systems, PeaceHealth is struggling financially amid rising operational costs and declining revenues. Over the last fiscal year, the system had $3.2 billion in operating revenues but incurred a $50 million operating loss before interest, taxes depreciation and amortization, according to the company’s financial records.
That’s a sharp downturn from the previous fiscal year, which yielded an operating profit of $122 million before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization on $2.9 billion in operating revenues. However, these figures do not include investment gains or losses.
Overall, the company lost around $200 million in value over the last 12 months. Labor costs also increased by under $400 million during the same period.
The participating nurses were also quick to point out that a rally is not a strike. The nurses went back to work after the demonstration was over without negatively impacting patient care.