Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Health care workers want minimum staffing standards in 2022

Three major unions say hospital staffing shortages are burning out frontline workers.

EVERETT — Two years into the pandemic, frontline health care workers are burning out and have reached a breaking point, say leaders of unions that represent them. They want lawmakers to mandate minimum staffing standards in 2022.

“It’s not sustainable to work like this,” said Maria Goodall, a vascular ultrasound technician at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. “It’s something you expect to do once in awhile, but it shouldn’t become a daily expectation.”

Staffing shortages are creating dangerous conditions for the patients and workers, they say. There also needs to be better enforcement of existing rest break laws and more investment in workforce development, they say

Three unions that collectively represent 71,000 health care workers have launched a campaign to press the state Legislature to act on these matters in the next session. Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW, Washington State Nurses Association and United Food and Commercial Workers 21 are drafting legislation to address the concerns.

“I know nurses who spend 12 hours without going to the bathroom, because it’s that busy,” said Jane Hopkins, a registered nurse at Harborview Medical Center and executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. “Do you want somebody looking after you, knowing very well they’re a little distracted because they haven’t peed?”

One focus is crafting a standard for the number of patients per nurse. California was the first state to require minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals. Hopkins said such a law is needed in Washington.

Chief Executive for Providence Northwest Darren Redick said in a statement that Providence has hired as many new caregivers as possible over the past year to fill open positions.

“We appreciate and share the unions’ concerns about health care staffing shortages,” Redick said. “Staffing is a significant issue that is not only affecting us locally, but also hospitals across the country. Providence is committed to ensuring we have enough staff to continue to provide the services our communities need and have come to expect.”

UFCW 21, which represents health care workers at Providence, struck an agreement with the hospital in July. Registered nurses received a $1,500 bonus in September and a $2,000 bonus in December, according to the union’s website.

Compass Health, a nonprofit community behavioral health agency, recently increased wages for its frontline clinical staff. The positions received a 5% to 30% increase.

“Compass Health offered to increase the wages of our clinical staff because we want to be a magnet for high-performing, dedicated behavioral health professionals,” CEO Tom Sebastian said in a statement. “It’s also important that compensation reflect the sophistication and quality of the care our team delivers, and the value they provide to our community by serving our most vulnerable population.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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