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Oregon Nurses Association pickets outside Providence St. Vincent

By Kandra Kent

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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — With their contracts expired since the end of January, nurses at Providence’s St. Vincent hospital, along with the Oregon Nurses Association, held a picketing event outside the hospital Tuesday evening to up the ante of labor negotiations.

Among the top items on their wish list: specific nurse staffing levels spelled out in the contract.

After two years of the pandemic, ONA said nurses are beyond tired of being stretched thin.

“We see what happens to the community when they can’t access care,” Providence RN Heidi Sweeney said in an interview with FOX 12.

Sweeney said she works in telemedicine as an advice nurse and part of the triage system for the hospital group.

“If we don’t have adequate staffing, we can’t answer those calls in a timely manner, and that’s where we get very concerned and want to bring attention to,” Sweeney said. “As a nurse, that really does weigh on us. You talk about burnout and stress, knowing that we’re not helping out the patients in the best possible way. That’s one of our biggest burdens.”

Other contract demands include improving patient safety standards and better pay and health benefits.

“We would like to provide the community the best healthcare we can possibly, and we need Providence to work with us to provide those tools,” Sweeney said.

But St. Vincent hospital leaders said the union is purposely delaying negotiations, and only hurting nurses in the meantime.

“Do I want to ensure that the nurses who work at St. Vincent are given a competitive salary? Absolutely,” said Jennifer Burrows, the hospital’s chief executive. “And that’s the reason that I’m really pushing to get ONA back to the table.”

Burrows said the union has only agreed to meet with St. Vincent hospitals leaders once since the nursing contract expired.

“There’s going to be no resolution until we’re actually talking to each other, and so we need to get back to the table,” Burrows added.

Providence St. Vincent said it has offered nurses a 9.3% wage increase, with smaller incremental increases over the next two years.

“We feel like it’s important for us to work through the couple of places that we don’t have alignment so our nurses can start seeing this increase in their paycheck,” Burrows said.

As for staffing levels, Burrows said hospital leadership has not heard any proposals from ONA on the matter.

Burrows said staffing challenges do exist at the hospital, but told FOX 12 that hospital leaders work hard – and pay more – to minimize the impacts.

“The things we’ve put in place in terms of travel nurses and incentives for extra shifts, allow us to have the right number of nurses caring for our patients, and so I want the public to know they can feel safe coming here,” Burrows said.

ONA and Providence St. Vincent are expected to meet again for bargaining on Thursday.

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