Media Advisory For: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020
Contact: Dave Bates
Nearly 8,000 Nurses and Caregivers Continue Strike at Swedish-Providence, Seattle’s Largest Medical Center, Fighting for Their Patients’ Safety
Caregivers are raising alarms that Swedish-Providence prioritizes profits and executive pay before patients, which has caused severe care problems, understaffing and turnover
The Jan. 28-30 unfair labor practice strike would be the largest healthcare strike
in the nation’s recent history
Seattle, WA — Nearly 8,000 nurses and caregivers began their strike yesterday at Swedish-Providence Medical Center. The strike – a last resort for nurses and caregivers – began with picket lines at Swedish First Hill, Cherry Hill, Ballard, Issaquah, Edmonds and ambulatory care centers in Redmond and Mill Creek. Nearly all workers are participating in the strike, and a vast majority are walking picket lines at all seven campuses.
Since corporate giant Providence took over Swedish, healthcare workers have seen management prioritize profits and executive pay over patients’ needs, causing severe care problems, understaffing and turnover.
For over nine months, caregivers have been making urgent proposals for safe staffing levels and improvements that would recruit and retain more workers. While caregivers have been struggling, the company had $24 billion in revenue and $11 billion in cash reserves in 2018, and raked in $970 million in profits in just the first three quarters of 2019.
“I am saddened that I have to step away from my patients and I am very disappointed that it has come to this.” said Rey Paranada, a registered nurse in the multi-campus float pool at Swedish First Hill. “We have a moral obligation as healthcare workers to keep our patients safe and provide the best care they deserve. We have done everything we could to get management to hear our plea. After 10 months, we refuse to allow Swedish-Providence to demoralize and undermine us. We are united and we will continue to persevere. Yes, we are sacrificing three days away from the bedside, but we are doing this for the long-term welfare of of our patients, our families and our community.”
SCHEDULE OF STRIKE EVENTS
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 29
• Strike continues all day
• March & Rally for Safe Staffing & Patient Care
3:30 pm March begins at Swedish First Hill, 747 Broadway
4:30 pm Rally at Westlake Park with elected officials, community supporters and music
THURSDAY, JAN. 30
Strike continues all day
FRIDAY, JAN. 31, 7:30 AM
Nurses and caregivers walk back into work together at all seven locations, but management has threatened to lock workers out of their jobs for an additional two days.
For over nine months, Swedish-Providence nurses, nursing assistants, techs, lab workers, dietary workers, environmental service technicians, clerks, social workers and others have been proposing urgent solutions to improve patient care and jobs. Their contract proposals include: safe nurse-to-patient staffing ratios; manageable workloads for environmental service technicians so they can properly clean and disinfect patients’ rooms; safeguards against racial discrimination so everyone is treated with respect on the job; and fair wages that recruit and retain qualified staff. Swedish-Providence has rejected almost all safe staffing proposals, and has instead made proposals that would worsen short staffing and turnover, such as making workers’ schedules more unpredictable.
“When Swedish was an independent hospital, we recruited and retained the very best staff, but now Providence is constantly making us do more with fewer resources,” said Ashley Bower, who has been a registered nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Swedish First Hill for the past nine years. “For example, we used to have two certified nursing assistants in the ICU step-down unit, but now we only have one for 15 patients. We used to have two resource nurses who went throughout the unit and provided help wherever it was needed, but now we only have one such nurse for up to 32 patients. These cuts have resulted in real suffering for our patients and it’s heartbreaking.”
Management has also broken federal labor law over a dozen times, including: intimidating, disciplining and firing workers for speaking out; surveilling workers; unilaterally changing working conditions without negotiating; refusing to provide even basic information to facilitate negotiations; and refusing to bargain in recent days to avert the unfair labor practice strike. Swedish-Providence recently disclosed they have spent at least $11 million to fly in hundreds of temporary replacement workers during the strike, and have hired 200 “tactical security guards” with body cameras to try to instill fear in caregivers. This outraged workers, who have been pleading for 24-hour security guards and metal detectors in Swedish-Providence emergency departments, where caregivers are often struggling with unsafe staffing while dealing with patients who are mentally ill, addicted or violent.
Multiple studies have proven that unsafe staffing levels in hospitals can lead to lower quality care, including falls, infections, medication errors, and increased deaths. Recently, the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings found that, in the Swedish First Hill Organ Transplant Center, “The employer’s failure to respond to the severe staffing shortages and manager hostility and retaliation, all of which jeopardized patient health and staff health, shows a complete disregard for patient care and safety as well as a complete lack of regard for their own employees.”
According to management’s own data, 1,000 healthcare workers a year leave Swedish-Providence and there are currently about 900 vacant staff positions. 600 of those positions are for registered nurses, and 50 percent of vacancies have gone unfilled for 60 days or longer. One of the reasons that Swedish-Providence has difficulty with recruitment and retention is that wages for frontline workers are not keeping up with the soaring cost of living. 85 percent of environmental service technicians, who are responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the hospital, are women of color. Out of 319 environmental service techs, only seven make enough to afford the average one-bedroom apartment in the Seattle area. In fact, Swedish-Providence pays almost 40 percent of its employees below the salary necessary to afford the average one-bedroom.
“Nowadays with viruses spreading, it’s more important than ever to make sure we thoroughly clean and sanitize the entire hospital to prevent acquired infections,” said Edith Donovan, who has been an environmental services technician at Swedish First Hill for the past 17 years. “But since Providence took over Swedish, the workloads have become overwhelming. When one environmental service technician is required to clean and disinfect over two dozen rooms, that’s just not safe for patients. Hospital work is extremely hard, and combined with unfair wages that make it difficult to survive, we feel like we’re drowning.”
In 2017, the neurosurgery department at Swedish Cherry Hill had a patient safety scandal severe enough to warrant concurrent investigations by the FBI, U.S. Attorney General, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Washington state Department of Health. Despite Swedish-Providence’s public declaration to solve the crisis, management has since cut staff. It appears that the fundamental cause of the scandal, a focus on increasing profits instead of patient safety, is still infecting the corporate culture at Swedish-Providence.
SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of over 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.