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St. Charles, Bend nurses face off again over claims of unsafe staffing, unfair labor practices as talks continue

(Update: Adding video, hospital issues response, calls NLRB claims 'without merit')

'It doesn't seem like they're negotiating with us'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) - As negotiations between the St. Charles Bend nurses and the hospital continue, nurses filed multiple unsafe staffing complaints against the hospital on Friday, the Oregon Nurses Association said Monday.

The nurses are pressing their claims that the hospital is "severely understaffed and continues to violate Oregon’s hospital safe staffing law, creating health and safety hazards for local patients, caregivers and the community." 

The hospital later issued a statement, disputing much of what the ONA and its nurses alleged.

The nurses union noted Oregon Health Authority previously cited St. Charles Bend for “repeated noncompliance” with critical aspects of Oregon’s hospital safe staffing law as part of state staffing surveys and investigations in 2017, 2021, and 2022.

ONA Vice President Joel Hernandez said things have only gotten worse.

"Last few months -- three, four months I think -- St. Charles has decided to close down 20 beds. That is because they don’t want to pay for (traveling nurses), but what ends up happening is, we still have patients coming in."

Negotiations between the union and St. Charles Bend have been underway for about five months.

“We’ve corrected language, we’ve talked about, you know, maybe 'this should be director not manager, and manger not director,' but nothing of substance," Hernandez said. "It doesn’t seem like they’re negotiating with us."

ONA says it wants a strategic plan to recruit and retain nurses in Central Oregon that includes better working conditions, benefits, and pay.

ONA Communications Director Kevin Mealy said in addressing housing and affordability, “St. Charles hired an economist to present to nurses why they didn’t need to be paid more and ways in which living in Bend was affordable.

"Some of the ways they suggested were getting a roommate that makes 140 percent more than you do, or getting married in order to pull your income. Especially in a female-dominated profession, I think many nurses were rightfully offended."

St. Charles Health System increased wages by $5 an hour for all "bedside nurses," which ONA says helps, but it's not enough to retain nurses.

“It affects everybody if we don’t have the correct staff to take care of our community," Hernandez said.

St. Charles Health System provided this response Monday afternoon to NewsChannel 21 regarding the latest ONA allegations:

"As always, St. Charles takes patient safety seriously, and we strive to provide the highest quality care at all times,” said Julie Ostrom, a senior nursing leader and member of the St. Charles bargaining team.

“We have not received any notification from the Oregon Health Authority regarding newly submitted concerns. We will, of course, review and respond to any concerns that have been raised. We are aware of the NLRB charges and believe them to be without merit. 

"It is our understanding that the NLRB is in the initial phases of investigation. We are back in negotiations with the ONA this week and will continue to bargain in good faith with the goal of reaching a contract agreement,” Ostrom added.

Ostrom also shared that, over the past nine months, St. Charles Bend has have hired more new caregivers than they have lost to turnover and has reduced the number of open nursing positions they are currently recruiting for at the Bend hospital to 84. 

"Additionally, turnover among Bend nursing staff is declining," the hospital said, "and in 2022, St. Charles Bend reported its lowest turnover rate among nursing staff in the past three years."

Here is the full news release from the nurses union, as negotiations continue on reaching a new contract.

“St. Charles’ executives spent years raking in profits and looking the other way while frontline nurses and staff left the hospital. Now St. Charles is short-staffed nearly every shift and we’re concerned for our patients. We need to act now to recruit and retain skilled nurses so our community gets the care they deserve,” said John Nangle, a local nurse and ONA executive team member at St. Charles Bend.

The unsafe staffing complaints filed with the Oregon Health Authority identify St. Charles Bend’s repeated:

  • Failure to meet minimum safe staffing standards;
  • Failure to provide sufficient replacement staff;
  • Failure to create staffing plans to meet the needs of ‘overflow’ and ‘boarding’ patients being treated in hallways or other departments;
  • Failure to limit hospital admissions or direct patients to other hospitals when health care providers aren’t able to meet patients’ needs;
  • Failure to ensure health care workers have the necessary skills and qualifications to perform their jobs;
  • Failure to properly assess and care for the sickest patients while relying on an unapproved acuity tool;
  • Failure to implement a hospital-wide safe staffing plan based on nationally recognized standards;
  • Failure to provide required meal and rest breaks to staff;
  • Failure to correct numerous hospital safe staffing law violations uncovered by a state investigation in April 2022.

St. Charles’ chronic unsafe staffing is directly linked to its failures to recruit, retain and respect frontline nurses. Since 2018, nearly 60% of registered nurses at St. Charles Bend resigned. St. Charles Bend has more than 300 vacant nursing positions as of March 21, 2023 per hospital data.

Decades of research and real-life experience confirm a lack of nurses harms community health and leads to longer wait times and hospital stays, higher costs, more patient infections and injuries, more readmissions and more preventable deaths. 

Local nurses also filed two new unfair labor practice charges against St. Charles Bend with the National Labor Relations Board on April 21.

St. Charles executives are charged with bad faith bargaining after refusing to provide relevant information about its multimillion dollar contracts with outside staffing agencies and refusing to drop contract proposals which are not mandatory subjects of bargaining. Both are violations of federal law. 

Nurses previously filed an unfair labor practice against St. Charles for illegally spying on nurses who participated in protected union activity. The NLRB has opened investigations into St. Charles’ actions and can elect to impose financial, legal or other penalties on companies which are found to have broken the law. 

Nurses at St. Charles Bend have been meeting with St. Charles’ executives for nearly five months to try to reach a fair contract agreement which improves community health and safety. Local nurses are working to solve St. Charles’ ongoing staffing crisis, raise safety standards, increase recruitment and retention of skilled caregivers, and ensure all Central Oregonians have access to safe, affordable health care. 

Nurses are currently working without a contract after the previous agreement expired Dec. 31, 2022. Contract provisions remain in effect while the parties are engaged in negotiations.

The nearly 1,000 frontline nurses at St. Charles Bend are represented by the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA).

The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) is the state’s largest and most influential nursing organization. We are a professional association and labor union which represents more than 16,000 nurses and allied health workers throughout the state, including more than 1,200 frontline nurses and allied health workers at multiple St. Charles Health facilities serving Central and Eastern Oregon. ONA’s mission is to advocate for nursing, quality health care and healthy communities. For more information visit:

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Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.


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