Trevor Gjendem addresses a gathering August 24 outside of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett to discuss work conditions at the hospital in Everett. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Trevor Gjendem addresses a gathering August 24 outside of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett to discuss work conditions at the hospital in Everett. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Everett, county councils express ‘disappointment’ in letter to Providence

Earlier this month a patient died in the Everett hospital’s lobby. Nurses have spoken about work conditions for months.

EVERETT — Nurses at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett got a boost of symbolic support from the Everett City and Snohomish County councils this week.

Members of the city and county councils signed onto a letter expressing “disappointment” and sharing potential solutions to the hospital’s ongoing problem with low staffing, especially among nurses.

It comes almost one week after a patient on Nov. 3 became unresponsive in the lobby and died in the Everett hospital’s emergency department. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the death and that an autopsy report is being conducted, but a media report about the investigation was not planned.

The hospital started a review of the patient’s death and its processes as well, Providence Swedish North Puget Sound interim CEO Kristy Carrington wrote in a statement. The hospital’s health care professionals treat patients having a medical emergency “regardless of the location within the department.”

“We are deeply saddened by this incident and our deepest sympathies are with the patient’s family and loved ones,” Carrington wrote. “We are providing on-site counselors for the patient’s family, our nurses, caregivers and physicians.”

In the meantime, the members of the two councils are expected to send their letter to the hospital’s leaders by the end of the week. It recommends:

• Meeting with nurses to hear their concerns and solutions.

• Advocating for funding and regulatory changes that could solve the staffing shortages.

• Collecting exit interview data from nurses who resign.

• Cutting pay raises for leadership when savings must be made to keep nurse compensation “competitive.”

• Giving nurses incentives such as hazard pay or a retention bonus.

• Entering early contract negotiations with the nurses union.

• Recruiting nurses who left because of workplace conditions.

Kelli Johnson, a nurse at Providence’s emergency department for over 2 years, called the letter “a great first start.”

“It demonstrates the gravity and the importance of the issue at hand,” Johnson said.

The past year has been full of challenges for the hospital.

In January, its emergency department was overwhelmed, partly by a wave of COVID patients.

Nurses have spoke at the city and county council meetings over the past several months. They’ve told the elected leaders they’re overworked and concerned about the quality of treatment they can give patients.

The hospitals’ leadership changed in August.

But the situation remains dire with a dearth of health care employees.

“You get to a point where you don’t have room to see patients walking through the door who need to get stabilized,” Johnson said.

Further complicating the hospital’s calculus are upward of 60 patients staying at the hospital longer than they might otherwise while waiting for room at other facilities, interim CEO Kristy Carrington said.

“Patients continue to come into our emergency departments. We don’t shut our doors,” Carrington said. “As a nurse myself, I can certainly relate to how it feels to take on more.”

Staff at Providence hospitals in Edmonds and Everett work to spread out the patient load, Carrington said.

Carrington said she and the new chief nursing officer are making a workforce recovery plan with three prongs — retention, recruitment and redoing care delivery. They have offered a cash incentive for nurses who pick up an additional shift, which Carrington said isn’t a good long-term strategy.

Johnson said that it may not solve the staffing problem.

“If you were a full-time nurse, you needed your days off to recover,” Johnson said. “You weren’t picking up extra.”

Beside that short-term fix, she’s also skeptical that there aren’t enough nurses available. There were 61,335 nursing jobs listed and 101,239 active nurse licenses in the state in October, according to a report from the Washington State Nurses Association.

Instead Johnson said she thinks they are choosing other employers with lower patient-to-nurse ratios and less stress, or leaving health care.

Johnson, who has been a main organizer of the nurses speaking at public meetings, said $10 to $20 hourly wage increases in the next contract could attract and keep nurses, while helping Providence decrease its spending on more costly travel nurses. Bargaining is set to start next year.

Recently the hospital has held “expedited” negotiations with some of its unions, which Carrington said she hopes will happen with the nurses union as well.

But Providence, like other health care providers, is reportedly facing financial losses, Carrington said. The Washington State Hospital Association reported the state’s healthcare providers lost $1 billion in the first quarter this year. The report cited low reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, higher costs for labor and supplies, and the backlog of moving patients out of hospitals and into post-acute care facilities.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

This story has been modified to correct the location of a patient’s death in the hospital.

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