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St. Elizabeth nurses in Enumclaw picket, rally for fair contract

RNs are calling on CHI Franciscan to provide safe staffing, affordable health care


UPDATE (Dec. 5, 2019) — Thanks to all who supported the nurses at St. Elizabeth Hospital on Wednesday! Here’s coverage from The (Tacoma) News Tribune:


► In today’s News Tribune — Enumclaw nurses picket over pay, staffing as CHI Franciscan aligns with other provider — Nurses at an Enumclaw hospital launched an informational picket Wednesday as contract negotiations continue into their seventh month. The rally at CHI Franciscan’s St. Elizabeth Hospital aimed to highlight the staff’s issues, including wages and benefits, patient care and staffing. The union also is calling attention to CHI Franciscan’s role in a new corporate operating structure finalized earlier this year.

The following is from SEIU Healthcare 1199NW:

ENUMCLAW — On Wednesday, Dec. 4, scores of nurses at St. Elizabeth Hospital will hold a “Rally and Informational Picket for Quality Care” to raise alarms about patient care, staffing and other serious concerns. The 124 registered nurses are advocating for safe staffing levels, affordable health insurance, and wages that will recruit and retain qualified staff.  Wednesday’s picket begins at 3:30 p.m. outside the hospital at 1455 Battersby Ave. in Enumclaw, and the rally begins at 5 p.m.

The St. Elizabeth nurses are the second group of caregivers at a CHI Franciscan facility recently to warn that executives at the corporate giant are prioritizing profits above patients’ needs. Last month hundreds of nurses and caregivers at Highline Medical Center in Burien held a similar event to protest unsafe staffing levels, cuts to their healthcare and unfair wages. Nurses say that, in this era of huge hospital corporations, they need to stand up and hold millionaire executives in distant boardrooms accountable to ensure they are investing in quality patient care and good jobs for local communities.

“My family and I had Thanksgiving on Tuesday last week, because I had to work on the holiday from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. – those are the kinds of sacrifices we make to care for our community year-round,” said Sherry Tomt, who has worked St. Elizabeth for four years. She added:

“I’ve been a registered nurse and lived in Enumclaw for about 26 years, and raised three kids here. People who work in healthcare want to help and be there for our neighbors. We meet people at their lowest point, when they’re sick, confused, scared and vulnerable. Sometimes we’re bringing new life into the world, sometimes saving a life, and sometimes comforting patients and their families at the end of life. Nobody goes into nursing to make a lot of money or have easy hours. But we do want to be shown the respect of being paid fairly for the hard work we do, so we can afford to pay our bills and heat our homes. Most St. Elizabeth nurses live in King County and pay King County taxes, but we don’t make King County wages. That’s why a lot of nurses have been leaving St. Elizabeth and it’s hard to attract new ones out here. In my small department we’ve lost a lot of people, about five or six nurses have left just in the last couple years. The nurses who stay have to fill in the shifts, and when you have to work too many 12 hour shifts and don’t get enough sleep, it can put patients at risk. We don’t want to wait until something happens to a patient for that to be the wake-up call for executives.”

The nurses at St. Elizabeth have been trying to negotiate a fair union contract with urgent solutions since May. Rather than listening to their concerns, executives have rejected staffing improvements and proposed increasing healthcare costs which are already a financial burden for many nurses, especially those with children under their insurance.

“When I first started at St. Elizabeth 10 years ago, there was much more trust with management and we felt like they really cared about the staff, but now CHI Franciscan executives are focused on profits,” said Kelly Patton, a mother of seven who has 30 years of nursing experience and works in acute care at the hospital. “Because we’re more of a rural hospital, you have to raise pay up to area standards, or you just can’t attract new nurses. My family and I can’t even afford to live in Enumclaw, the community where I provide care, and nurses are leaving to go make four-to-five dollars more an hour at other King County hospitals. Meanwhile CHI Franciscan executives are making millions, and it saddens us because we give so much as nurses.”

In addition to the rally and informational picket, workers are raising awareness amongst the public through many other means, including: a mobile billboard which will be driving through major intersections in the Enumclaw area and circling St. Elizabeth; extensive social media posts using the hashtag #ProtectStElizabethPatients; visiting CHI Franciscan headquarters in Tacoma; meeting directly with elected officials; sending letters to the CHI Franciscan board of directors; a website which will allow community members to directly contact executives; leafleting to patients; and distributing window signs to neighbors and local businesses.

Executives certainly have more than enough resources to protect patient safety, improve staffing levels and raise job standards. St. Elizabeth is very financially healthy with a strong profit margin, and CHI Franciscan had $1.4 billion in revenue in 2018. The CEO of CHI Franciscan, Ketul Patel, had total compensation of $2.6 million that year. Recently, CHI came under the control of CommonSpirit Health, the largest “non-profit” health system in the country by revenue, with over 700 facilities throughout 21 states.

“I love working here, because I have the honor of caring for the people I live next to,” said Sara Oster, an Enumclaw resident and new mother, who has worked in the St. Elizabeth emergency department for four years. “Patients come to our hospital because they expect to receive quality care. But when we’re understaffed in the emergency department, it prevents us from devoting the time and attention to our patients that they deserve. How can you provide quality care when you have too many patients, you can’t take your breaks during your 12-hour shift, your stomach is empty and your bladder is full? Just like airplane pilots, nurses need to be well rested and focused to be able to do our jobs safely.”

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of more than 30,000 nurses and healthcare workers throughout hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities, skilled home health and hospice programs in Washington State and Montana. Their mission is to advocate for quality healthcare and good jobs for all.


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