Providence hospice workers say they’re willing to go on strike

A union representative says families and patients have had to cope with inconsistent care.

EVERETT — After more than a year of negotiations, 230 unionized staff of Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County say they’re willing to strike to resolve staffing and wage issues.

Staff care for about 260 hospice patients a day and oversee the care of about 900 patients with medical needs living in their homes, said Florence Gustafson, a hospice nurse and member of the union’s negotiating team.

“We’ve had 50 employees leave in the past 12 months,” she said. “We’re hemorrhaging employees.”

That can mean that hospice patients and their families don’t have a consistent group of nurses and other staff to work with on their visits, Gustafson said.

“I work part time,” she said. “Sometimes I go to see a patient and it may have been six different nurses in the last visits.”

Wages and caseloads are among the issues being negotiated.

Union members have authorized a strike, if necessary, to resolve the issues.

“I’ve talked to people almost in tears as we talk about the possibility of a strike,” Gustafson said.

Hospital and home care staff had scheduled a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening in downtown Everett to help bring public attention to their contract issues.

Hospice and home care staff voted to join SEIU Healthcare 1199 Northwest on April 6, 2016. Negotiations with Providence began Sept. 5 of last year.

Mary Beth Walker, a spokeswoman for Providence Senior and Community Services, said a federal mediator has participated in the last two bargaining sessions.

The sessions lasted four to six hours “helping us to make some progress,” she said.

Another negotiating session is planned, but a date hasn’t yet been set.

“Patient safety and patient care is always our priority,” Walker said.

Walker said staff turnover at Everett is 18.4 percent. That compares to a 16.6 percent turnover rate at Providence’s other hospice and home care services in Washington and Oregon.

Home care workers are expected to see a minimum of four patients a day. Managers work with caregivers to ensure caseloads are appropriate, Walker said.

It’s never good for a number of different staff to provide care to hospice patients, she said. “We try to keep consistent care.”

There have been 18 negotiating sessions. It’s not uncommon for a first contract to take 18 months or more to resolve, Walker said.

Milli Uzoma, a licensed practical nurse who works with hospice patients and is a member of the union’s negotiating team, said she thinks an agreement eventually will be reached.

“I believe Providence will work with us,” she said. “They’re just being stubborn.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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