Another week in healthcare usually means someone somewhere is going on strike. This time it’s nearly 1,800 nurses at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside Hospital, and Providence Home Health and Hospice in Oregon, the first nurses’ strike in the state in 22 years.
The nurses are in the process of negotiating a new contract with Providence management, but the two sides have been unable to reach an agreement. Here’s where things stand:
The Oregon Association of Nurses is asking for reduced patient-nurse ratios, which they argue have been inflated since the pandemic, in addition to higher pay and more paid time off.
Providence argues it has already offered to increase worker pay as part of the new contract terms, which would increase nurse wages by 12 percent in the first year with an additional 3 percent raise in the second and third year of employment. Plus, a $2,500 bonus and 30 more hours of paid time off over the next three years.
But the union says that’s not enough.
The hospital claims the median full-time annual salary for Providence nurses currently stands at around $128,000 a year, while the Oregon Association of Nurses says it’s more like $99,000.
“This isn’t just about money and never has been,” the Oregon Nurses Association said in a statement. “It’s about sick time and paid time off to care for ourselves and our families, ensuring safe staffing so our patients are properly cared for, and making our careers sustainable.”
In anticipation of the strike, Providence hired between 300 and 400 replacement nurses to maintain operations, which leaves them short some 1,100 nurses. It also canceled non-emergency procedures and reduced the availability of other services. In a statement, the health system said it will still provide care to patients in life-threatening emergencies but encouraged those who need non-urgent care and those who live far away to seek care at other hospitals.
The strike started on Monday and is set to last five days with 24-hour picket lines at each of the impacted hospitals and the Portland office of Providence’s home health operation.
“This is a challenging time for them – for our nurses, for our community, for all of us,” Jennifer Gentry, chief nursing officer for Providence’s Central Division, said in an interview with a local news outlet. “I think it’s important that as the strike concludes that we come back to the table, are able to negotiate a fair contract and move into healing and reconciliation.”
The Oregon Nurses Association blamed the strike on the company for focusing more on hiring temporary nurses to keep the hospitals open rather than trying to meet the nurses’ demands. Providence countered by saying it has been trying to negotiate a deal since October of last year.
“We want wages that are comparable to other metro areas or other locations,” said Molly Burtchaell, a nurse at Providence. “We are asking for provisions in our contract to ensure that we are not working short on the floor, that we have enough nurses to provide excellent and safe care for our patients. We are asking, in addition, for additional time off to both care for ourselves and care for our family.”
Lori Curtis, a hospice nurse in Portland, was on the picket line Monday outside of the company’s main office with a group of her colleagues. She currently has 14 patients and said things need to change. “People are dying without the care of the nurses they know,” she told The Oregonian. “Time is crucial.”
“Our nurses are overwhelmed with the numbers they’re trying to take care of now,” added Linda Radcliffe, an RN at Providence Milwaukie Hospital. “We all became nurses to take good care of people, not just to take okay care of people, so I feel for fellow nurses that they probably do drive away from the hospital with a sense of failing their patients.”