Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Providence nurse’s tearful plea shines light on short-staffed ER

The nurse described an overwhelmed emergency department, as staff have pleaded with the Everett City Council for hazard pay.

EVERETT — Providence Regional Medical Center Everett nurses have continued to call on city lawmakers to require the hospital to issue hazard pay.

For almost a month nurses from the hospital have spoken in public comment during the Everett City Council’s weekly Wednesday meetings. They describe a hospital, especially its emergency department, in trouble with overworked employees and no relief in sight.

One nurse’s tearful plea from the council meeting on July 27 went viral on social media.

Heidi DeBauge, the nurse in the video with over 110,000 views, has been a trauma nurse there for over three years. She chose that unit for its broad range of medical care and fast pace.

“This is the hub. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” she told The Daily Herald.

Now she worries how much longer she can endure the conditions. Patients in chairs instead of beds or padded seats. Patients in hallways instead of in a room. Patients waiting and sitting around up to 70 hours for beds to be available upstairs.

“I do every care task for every single patient that I care for,” she said. “You don’t feel good about it at the end of the day.”

Kelli Johnson, an emergency department nurse, told the council last week that Providence leadership’s plan could take years to see results and won’t address problems that persist now.

Position vacancies prompted the hospital to close some units temporarily. That pushed those patients into the emergency department and created a higher workload than normal.

“If we don’t have enough staff to safely care for patients, we have to close beds down, which puts pressure on the emergency room,” Providence Northwest CEO Darren Redick told the council last week.

The issues at the hospital remain: too many patients, not enough beds and nurses.

There are about 100 patients who are medically stable but don’t have a place to be discharged, Redick said. Those patients need about 100 nurses, in addition to nursing assistants and other employees, to care for them.

Staffing losses have mounted, with a net decrease of 91 over the past year, Redick said. Providence is trying to hire over 250 nurses for its two Everett hospitals.

“Our nurses are tired, our nurses are stretched,” chief nursing officer Janine Holbrook told the council.

Some nurses left for better paying travel positions, as that field’s demand and rates grew during the pandemic. Others need a break, Holbrook said. Workload was a common complaint, Redick said.

But union representative Anthony Cantu said nurses are leaving Providence, not the industry or hospitals altogether.

In Everett council meetings, nurses have said hazard pay could encourage nurses to pick up another shift and help keep those already hired.

After the nurses’ initial request in July, city attorney David Hall questioned if Everett has legal authority to require hazard pay from the hospital.

Councilmembers Mary Fosse, Paula Rhyne and Don Schwab are working with those nurses and their union, UFCW 3000, to draft something in support of the Providence nurses, Fosse said.

“What’s going on in the Providence ER is a canary in the coal mine for what’s ahead for other hospitals,” Fosse said.

Providence Northwest’s leaders told the council higher reimbursement rates, more investment in nursing education access and more post-hospital health care facilities are all part of the solution.

Last year the union and Providence agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement with pay raises and bonuses between $1,500 and $7,500.

Providence is offering referral bonuses for new hires and could use licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and nursing students to help manage workloads.

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

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