Health care workers at Providence Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County are still without a contract after voting to unionize over two years ago. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Health care workers at Providence Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County are still without a contract after voting to unionize over two years ago. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

High caseloads are compromising care, hospice workers say

Two years after unionizing, Providence Hospice and Home Care employees still are negotiating a contract.

EVERETT — John Shannon’s growing caseload was causing the social worker in hospice care to rush from patient to patient.

Not alone in feeling overloaded, he joined other employees from Providence Hospice and Homecare of Snohomish County in a push for a more manageable schedule.

They voted to unionize in 2016 to force their employer to the negotiating table. But in the more than two years since joining SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, talks have stalled. The clinic is part of Providence Health & Services and the broader Providence St. Joseph Health system that was started by Catholic nuns.

“Care was being compromised by the higher caseloads,” Shannon said. “The climate seems to be more business driven than driven by the values of the Sisters.”

The union, which represents about 230 workers at Providence Hospice and Homecare and a total of 30,000 members across the state, is asking for a voice in determining staffing levels, along with a wage scale they say matches experience. They say Providence St. Joseph puts profits over patients, pointing to large salaries of the top executives.

“The union claims caregivers are overworked, when in reality both our home health and hospice caregiver caseloads are below the national averages and are no higher than any of our other home health and hospice facilities in Washington,” said Mary Beth Walker, a spokeswoman for the health care organization, in a prepared statement.

At the bargaining table, the workers were offered “a very competitive wage proposal with guaranteed annual increases,” she said.

Each hospice patient is assigned a care team, which can include a nurse, social worker, chaplain and case manager. Much of the treatment is received in the patient’s home. The union also includes workers who provide in-home care for other patients.

“It’s exhausting. It’s certainly not easy to go from one home full of emotional chaos, battle through traffic, then deal with more emotional chaos,” said Monica McCreery, a registered nurse in the union who does intake and admissions for hospice patients and their families in homes.

She hasn’t had a vacation since March, she said, because paid time-off requests were denied all summer.

The large patient loads have resulted in some patients and their families being cared for by different health care workers each visit, McCreery said.

“It’s another new complete stranger coming into your home,” McCreery said.

The union said nearly a third of workers left last year.

“It’s a problem with retaining good people,” said Shannon, the social worker.

Walker, with Providence, said that number was “false.” She said the turnover rate for the past 12 months was just under 13 percent, below the national average for health care workers.

The union says the company is financially healthy. Providence St. Joseph CEO Dr. Rod Hochman received over $11 million in total compensation in 2017, according to public tax documents. At least 14 other administrators earned more than $1 million in salary and benefits last year.

“When you see an organization of this size so lopsided on compensation for executives, it is disheartening to people,” said Diane Sosne, president of the union.

A year into the contract talks, the health care workers staged a three-day strike, Sosne said. On Nov. 15, they held a rally outside Providence Regional Medical Center Everett to draw attention to their labor dispute.

Providence St. Joseph is a Catholic, nonprofit health system with 51 hospitals and 829 clinics across seven states. Its locations include the hospital in Everett.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @lizzgior.

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