EVERETT — Before the sun rose Tuesday, hundreds of nurses picketed outside Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. They chanted, cheered and used handwarmers to help brave the 30-degree weather.
“Providence, Providence, we’re not laughing,” they chanted in unison. “Nurses and patients need safe staffing.”
About 1,300 nurses and their supporters are expected to picket the hospital’s two campuses at all hours until Sunday morning, with rotating shifts. Nurses walked off the job around 6 a.m., just as buses of replacement hires arrived. Security guards stood watch.
“It’s a slap in the face to the nursing profession,” Cora Howell, a nurse who walked off her shift in the surgical intensive care unit, said of the incoming travel nurses.
Providence has hired temporary nurses from a staffing agency to care for patients during the five-day strike, ensuring a “seamless transition” in patient care. The hospital declined to share the number of nurses hired or their pay.
“I got to meet a lot of these replacement nurses this morning, and they’re lovely,” said Michelle Lundstrom, chief nursing officer of the Everett hospital, the day before the strike. “I feel really confident.”
But some travel nurses didn’t know they would be working a strike until they arrived at the hospital, Howell said.
Kristy Carrington, regional CEO of Providence Swedish North Puget Sound, confirmed Tuesday not all travel nurses may have known about the strike.
“For our travel nurses who are currently on contract, we may not have had the strike notice ahead of time,” Carrington said at a press conference. “Our travelers have a choice, no traveler was forced to work. … We had some of them who did choose to work and we had some choose not to, and we’re OK with that. As far as the strike nurses, obviously those nurses came here for that sole purpose, knowing that we were having a strike.”
Providence executives said they were “fully staffed,” and ready to care for patients as normal.
“We don’t like to say the Q-word in the hospital, but things are kind of quiet,” said Jamie Park, chief medical officer for Providence Swedish North Puget Sound.
Lundstrom said some nurses had already “crossed the picket line,” and returned to work this morning, but did not disclose a number.
Hiring replacement staff comes at a higher cost to the hospital, Carrington said, but Providence respects the nurses’ right to strike.
“It’s a big hit,” she said. “We’re really disappointed that we got to this point with a strike. But that being said, we recognize and respect our nurses. We care about our nurses, we value our nurses and we recognize that this is their right.”
For months, Providence and the nurses’ union have gone back and forth on whether staffing enforcement should be included in a new labor contract. Nearly all units in the hospital have been understaffed since 2019.
Providence Everett is not the only hospital with staffing woes, but nurse wages have not been competitive with other hospitals in the region. On Nov. 3, leadership offered 21.5% raises across the board over three years to match its pay with the current market. Nurses say a raise isn’t enough — they want language in the contract about staffing plans.
Providence is testing a new staffing model that has improved retention at a hospital in Lubbock, Texas. The model pairs a nurse with a nursing assistant, and together they care for six patients at a time. Delegating new tasks to assistants is supposed to lighten the workload for nurses, Lundstrom said.
Last year, dozens of Everett nurses who tried the staffing model told Providence the workload is too heavy and patient safety is at risk, according to nurse surveys obtained by The Daily Herald.
Providence is piloting the model again this year, on a different floor. The general feedback has been positive, Lundstrom said.
Nurses on the picket line, like Laura Larsen, said the strike is a last resort.
“Some nurses can’t afford to take a week off work,” she said. “It’s unfortunate we’ve come to this.”