Providence nurses fight for better rights after more than 600 quit in last 18 months

Oct 30, 2023, 9:29 AM | Updated: 9:29 am


Emergency Room nurses and EMTs tend to patients. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

More than 600 nurses quit work at Providence Hospital in Everett over the last 18 months, making the work even more difficult for the nurses who have stayed.

Nurses are tired, fed up and want a better contract. That’s why they voted to strike last week.

“No. 1 (is) patient safety. So we are working together with Providence to get a contract that prioritizes patient safety over everything,” labor and delivery nurse Kristen Crowder told KIRO Newsradio. “We want patients to come to the hospital to get the care they need, get the time that they need with their nurses so that they can have education, how to learn blood checks, or monitoring blood pressure, whatever needs to happen. That’s ultimately what we’re fighting for is for the patients to get the care that they need.”

Crowder stated she’s witnessed the fatigue firsthand on both her floor and other departments, leading nurses to also ask for better pay.

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“We were short-staffed before (the COVID-19 pandemic), and then (COVID-19) happened,” Crowder said. “The mental and physical demands that were required during (COVID-19) really played a very hard role in how nurses were able to care for patients. Now, physically and mentally, people are by far more exhausted. Still, we have (fewer) resources, mostly because we have (fewer) nurses, but we also have less support staff.”

With less support staff comes longer wait times. The wait at the emergency room (ER) has been longer than three or four hours to see a doctor, depending on the issue. According to Hospital Stats, the shortest ER wait times within Seattle are at Swedish Medical Center (116 minutes and 144 minutes at the Cherry Hill location). Virginia Mason Medical Center’s wait time is 166 minutes on average while Northwest Hospital is 168 minutes.

The University of Washington Medical Center has a wait time of four hours, 19 minutes for emergency room visits while Harborview Medical is more than five hours.

“The profession itself has changed over the years. Most people who enter the hospital are very sick,” Crowder explained. “No one comes in for a minor illness anymore. You have to need some sort of intervention that is absolutely required to be in the hospital for.”

Crowder said negotiations will continue on Nov. 3 and, if the union can’t strike a deal with the hospital, nurses will give a 10-day notice to strike.

“We need the ability to have Providence understand that, yes, we need to be innovative with how we staff, but we also need to ensure that we are getting the nurses in the door and so that we can continue to provide the best care that we can,” Crowder added.

She said that wages aren’t competitive with other hospitals and that’s just one of the reasons 600 nurses have left.

Nurses in Washington: Virginia Mason group pickets for more staff, better safety

Michelle Lundstrom, a Providence spokesperson and chief nursing officer, spoke to KIRO Newsradio and stated she believes forward movement is possible.

“I am really optimistic that we can get a contract that makes sense to support our nurses,” Lundstrom told KIRO Newsradio. “I would be interested to hear from the other side, what is not enough? Because we’re leaning into these conversations. We’re going to some difficult places. And I think we’re going to make some progress that makes sense to support our nurses and our community. I really do.”

However, Lundstrom claimed the overall nurses’ issues are not seen at Providence alone.

“It’s a national issue and what we’re doing to address the national nursing shortage here locally is, No. 1, we want a contract that supports and promotes our nursing division,” Lundstrom continued. “After the next negotiation session, I really honestly believe we’ll have a ratified contract.”

Lundstrom believes Providence needs to change the staffing model so some of the workload is taken off of the nurses. She stated it’s important that the hospital provides safe, excellent care for patients.

“When I’m out on the floors, I can tell you there’s a lot of work going into these innovative models, reducing workload for the bedside registered nurse (RN). So I do want to put into context that when we say one RN has eight patients, in a previous model of primary care nursing, that would mean there was very little support for that one RN, and they were carrying those eight patients without a lot of support.”

Those nursing students will help solve part of the problem. Their participation will also help them grow as future nurses.

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“So they’re practicing the skills we’re paying them while they do it,” Lundstrom said. “And they’re reducing the workload, and that’s preparing us for the future.”

What happens if the nurses decide to strike?

“And if nurses do (strike), I honor their right. I support them in their right to have a work stoppage if that’s what they feel like they need to do,” Lundstrom said. “And we do have a plan, we will continue taking care of patients, we’ve been working really diligently in the background to ensure that we have a seamless transition. So that if we do get a strike notice we have all the resources and the expertise in the hospital to take care of these patients.”

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki Gamez on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Providence nurses fight for better rights after more than 600 quit in last 18 months