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Providence hospital workers picket for improved staffing levels

EVERETT — Health care workers at Providence just can’t seem to get a break.
And that’s the problem.
Workers say staffing levels have left no slack to let nurses and other staff take their permitted breaks on a consistent basis.
Manpower is described as a key sticking point in contract renewal negotiations between Providence and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 union representing 2,300 Providence Everett workers.
One could say the contracts are living on borrowed time as contract extensions are being utilized. The nurses’ three-year contract expired in October and the contract for other professionals expired this spring. The contract for technicians, such as lab workers, expires this month.
“We’re still not seeing it eye to eye on staffing levels,” said James Crowe, the  union’s negotiations director. The union and hospital next meet on June 11 after press time.
On June 6, a pool of union members including hospital staff and allies from the grocery and food worker industries picketed outside Providence Regional Medical Center Everett as well as the campus at Pacific Avenue.
Numerous workers said they’re missing out on regular breaks during 12- or 8-hour shifts. Breaks are missed because either nobody is available to relieve them — nurses can’t leave without handing off their patients — or staff are skipping breaks altogether to not
waste time hunting someone down available for relief.
Typically, a nurse’s round has four patients under his or her care. It inflates to five patients at night.
The workers commonly understand that taking a break means temporarily doubling up someone else’s load.
Crowe said the union would like to see the contract offer more flexibility regarding staffing levels.
Staffing levels vary. “Some days they’re great, some days they’re not great,” and some days there’s a ratio of five patients to each nurse
and “five is cutting it short,” orthopedic nurse Marie Windhorn said.
Nurses are conscientious about handing off their patient loads.
“No one wants to leave because it would cause an unsafe ratio of staff on the floor,” said Carissa Cardiff, an operating room nurse.
Providence lacks something other hospital systems have where people are assigned as designated relievers, claimed Cardiff. The operating room has a reliever system, she said.
Relief is only available when someone is free in their unit or floor of the busy hospital. Desiree Pittsenbarger, a charge nurse working in orthopedics, said she sometimes skips taking 15-minute breaks despite the fact sometimes relief is available.
Sue Woodard can find herself working 12 hours without a break on the baby delivery floor.
“Most often there is nobody to take on (relief), and we are tired, and we want to take a break,” said Woodard, a Providence nurse who is on the contract negotiating team.
The union and hospital have met 19 times since negotiations began. Providence brought in a federal mediator to the contract negotiations in January, a hospital spokeswoman said in a company statement.
In the statement, Providence said: “We greatly value our nurses and are focused on reaching an agreement as soon as possible. While informational picketing has no impact on patient care, we are disappointed that the union has chosen this option, and we would prefer to get back to the bargaining table.”
Comparing the staffing situation to Providence’s mission statement, “it’s not the image you’d expect that they look at money above people,” said Rachel, a post-operation surgical nurse who preferred her last name not be printed.
The new nurses are often surprised by the unexpected workload, said Windhorn, the veteran orthopedic nurse.
This is not the only union negotiation going on at Providence.
While UFCW 21 workers picketed, Providence Home and Hospice workers who have organized are waiting to solidify a contract.
The hospice workers organized in 2016 under Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199NW and have been in negotiations with Providence for a year and a half to have a union contract formalized, said a SEIU 1199NW spokeswoman.

Update June 12: The home and hospice workers work for a branch of Providence that is separate and has its own center.


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