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Fri., April 24

Kenia Escobar


Nurses call for removal, replacement of five administrators as COVID-19 spreads at Western State

LAKEWOOD—Nurse members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at Western State Hospital today announced that a majority of member nurses at Western State Hospital voted no confidence in the behavioral health facility’s administrative leadership and nurse management.

Citing grave, ongoing concerns about safety and staffing levels, which predate and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, nurses are calling for the removal and replacement of the following administrators:

  • Sean Murphy, Assistant Secretary, Behavioral Health Administration, DSHS
  • Jennifer Brown, Chief Nursing Officer, Western State Hospital
  • Nora Hennecken, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer, Western State Hospital
  • Kimmi Munson-Walsh, Chief Scheduler, Western State Hospital
  • Karen Pittman, Infection Control Specialist, Western State Hospital

“My coworkers and I are proud of the work we do at WSH, caring for our patients and collaborating with each other to ensure safety for our patients as well as for staff members. We have been trying to partner with nursing leadership for years to implement best practices to improve care and safety and they aren’t interested in working with us,” said Marivic Dellinger, a nurse supervisor at Western State and member of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Dellinger continued, “We reached out at the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis asking management to help us stay in front of this to keep our wards safe. It makes us feel disrespected, not appreciated, and angry when we all know that we are capable of doing our job. Now because of their slow reaction my coworkers have gotten sick. A patient has died, and yet we’ve had to fight for the slightest change that will make our workplace safe during COVID-19. Our patients need us and this vote is what we feel we have to do to take care of them.

“I believed that a vote of no confidence in our nursing leadership was the right action to take, and the effort towards making it happen for and seeing the response of my fellow RNs has been very exciting. Now we are finally feeling hope- hope that we will have a change within leadership that will empower and respect our nurses. Leadership that sees the value in seeking nurses input and with decision making.”

Throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, nurses at Western State say they have gone without necessary personal protective equipment, been given contradictory guidance that does not reflect evidence-based medicine; and have been repeatedly rebuffed by management when raising concerns about the safety of both workers and patients. Nurses continue to provide the highest level of care to their patients even in the face of poor leadership and dangerous working conditions.

In addition to calling for the removal and replacement of nursing administrators, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members at Western State are demanding that new nurse leadership receive ongoing training using a racial justice lens; that new leaders build relationships with members, visiting the wards and holding regular all-nursing meetings; better labor-management relations including following the collective bargaining agreement and labor laws when proposing changes to working conditions; and maintain all compensatory time benefits that have been threatened by the Behavioral Health Administration.

Union members trace current issues to a pattern within Western State nursing management of ignoring the perspectives of experienced front-line workers. In 2018, Western State Hospital lost its Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services certification after a CMS inspection determined the hospital was not in “substantial compliance” with federal requirements. Nurses say the lack of attention to accepted standards of nursing and care by management risks both the health and safety of patients, and the nursing licenses of these essential workers.

“For years, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members have said ineffective nursing management is at the root of the problems we see at Western State. We see the result of this during the COVID-19 crisis: Management, especially in nursing, has been asleep at the wheel, and patients and frontline workers are continuing to show up for their patients and getting sick as a result,” said Jane Hopkins, RN, Executive Vice President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. “This vote is our members demanding immediate attention to their concerns. We will stand for nothing less.”

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has 400 members at Western State Hospital, who are nurses and nurse supervisors. As of this writing, 29 staff and 6 patients at Western State have reportedly contracted COVID-19.


SEIU Healthcare 1199NW is a union of nurses and healthcare workers with over 30,000 caregivers throughout hospitals, clinics, behavioral health, skilled home health and hospice programs in
Washington state and Montana.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW’s mission is to advocate for quality care and good jobs for all.

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