Nurses stretched thin at Providence Everett, call for increased staffing
EVERETT — Nurses are feeling stretched thin by patient loads at Providence Everett, and each week experienced co-workers walk out the door.
Local union members organized a leaflet campaign Wednesday, Aug. 24 to raise attention to chronic understaffing at Providence’s two campuses in Everett.
The patient-to-nurse ratio loads are increasing. As a result, patient care is getting slower, wait times are increasing, and there’s an imbalance of lesser-experienced nurses on the floor, nurses told the Tribune.
One answer, they say, is to retain and hold onto the nursing corps already there to help build the next generation of nurses.
Compounding the “gray wave” of Baby Boomers retiring is that other long-serving nurses are bowing out to work in non-hospital settings. Younger nurses with a few years under the belt bolt to become traveling nurses, which are paid at higher rates to perform as contracted nurses in hospitals. The contagiousness of COVID-19 further exacerbated the anxiety of working in a hospital setting.
Half the floor might be traveling nurses on some floors, said Kristen Crowder of Monroe, a labor and delivery nurse at Providence’s Pavilion for Women and Children on Pacific Avenue. Inexperienced nurses make up a larger percentage of the night shift who more often need guidance.
Nurses gain their practical experience on-the-fly by learning from older colleagues.
“You grow the new generation of nurses,” said Dana Robison of Bothell, another pregnancy delivery nurse at Providence’s Pacific Campus.
Without gleaning experience from experienced nurses, then today’s nurses will gain skills at a slower rate, Crowder said.
Statewide, among 120,000 registered nurses, about 59,000 work in nursing, union membership action director Kendra Valdez said.
“People could come back if there were incentives,” Valdez said.
Providence Northwest’s communications team published a statement the day of the leafletting that Providence Regional Medical Center Everett “has been hiring and filling open positions as fast as possible, and when necessary, contracting with staffing agencies to help supplement staffing. (Providence Regional Medical Center Everett) has also offered caregivers incentives to work extra shifts, recognition bonuses, and signing bonuses.”
A few months ago Providence removed the financial bonus for nurses to take extra shifts because of cost, union negotiator for the Providence Everett nurses, Evelyn Orantes-Fogel said.
Providence nurses are not in union bargaining. The contract expires in fall 2023.
Last summer, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett signed a new contract with the union which upped the pay rates. Providence said the new contract “provides market competitive rates as well as a ratification bonus.”
The Tribune was told the pay is better, but not by much. (A starting nurse earns about $30 an hour.)
Providence has deviated from the recommended patient-nurse ratio loads, Orantes-Fogel said, meaning nurses are assigned to handle more patients than before. The ratio loads are larger than the staffing plan recommended by nurses’ committees inside the hospital.
These ratios have been increasing for years, Crowder described. Crowder thinks these decisions are coming from the executive level down. Executives “just don’t get it, they don’t know what it’s like at the bedside,” Crowder said.
Providence, in its statement, said the statewide nursing shortage “has not improved over the last six months.”
Robison has 16 years of nursing experience, nine of them with Providence Everett. Asked why she stays, she said it’s to serve patients.
Fixing the situation “will take lots of small steps, and take care to bring awareness and start the conversation,” Robison said.
Crowder predicts licensed practical nurses (LPN) and nursing technicians might be used more often to help relieve the gap. But LPNs can’t do everything registered nurses do. While registered nurses give direct care to patients, LPNs are more like wingmen in the hospital, according to NursingLicenseMap.com.
Providence spokesman Casey Calamusa provided the Tribune answers post-press time:
Tribune: I was told that this spring, Providence ended bonuses given to nurses for taking extra shifts. Is that the case?
Answer: During the height of the Omicron wave, we did everything we could to ensure we could care for our community as we faced unprecedented numbers of COVID patients. This included temporarily offering bonuses for extra shifts, despite the financial toll. In the first three months of 2022, the Providence family of organizations lost $510 million. In the second quarter of 2022, the organization had a net operating loss of $424 million. We are committed to operating in a way that is sustainable so that we can continue to fulfill our Mission to care for the poor and vulnerable in our communities.
Tribune: Does Providence plan to increase its budget toward hiring visiting nurses to help offset on-the-floor nurse shortages?
Answer: In the short-term we will continue to supplement our core staff with traveling nursing staff, as we have always done. Our overarching goal is to address the root causes of staffing challenges. In the U.S., there simply aren’t enough nurses, and there are many efforts underway to help build a pipeline for nursing education across the country. In addition, in Everett, we have more than 100 patients who are medically ready for discharge, but do not have a safe place in the community to be discharged to. We are advocating for additional community resources to be able to care for these patients in a more appropriate setting. If they can be discharged from the hospital that would greatly improve our staffing. We need the help of our community leaders and elected officials to help make sure there are appropriate resources in the community.
Change in leadership
Last week, Providence’s regional chief executive in the North Puget Sound area, Darren Redick, announced he’s stepping down.
Kristy Carrington, the chief nursing officer for Providence’s North Division, was named in Redick’s place on an interim basis.
Redick took over as the region’s chief just last year. He had 30 years of experience within Providence.
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