A new survey shows that short staffing at Kaiser Permanente is even more severe than previously understood. A study conducted by the Alliance of Healthcare Unions, a coalition of nearly twenty union locals including two in Oregon and Southwest Washington, shows that 90% of Kaiser departments are facing short staffing. The OR/Southwest WA coalition includes ILWU Local 28, which represents the security officers at Kaiser, and OFNHP - AFT Local 5017, which represents nearly 4,000 RNs and health professionals. Both locals say that short staffing is creating crisis conditions for both workers and the patients they serve.
Nearly 95% of those surveyed say that short staffing is affecting patients, and that only about half of Kaiser employees could actually recommend Kaiser for healthcare services. A full 77% said that the high level of travelers, which are contracting traveling healthcare professionals who work at Kaiser on short term contracts, are bad for patient care. This situation has placed extreme stress on the current regular employees, 89% of which report this has put a strain on their mental health.
"This staffing crisis puts so many people at risk, from staff to our members and visitors. In an effort to continue to provide the security services needed, we have members working extra shifts multiple days a week and we still can't keep up with the needs,” says Greg Chavez, President of ILWU Local 28, who notes that about 40% of their security positions are vacant. “This survey shows the strain we are all under and the need to recruit new staff and retain the ones we currently have."
For OFNHP, short staffing has been a centerpiece of their organizing efforts, including a substantial fight nearly leading to a strike in 2021. “This survey simply proves what we have known for years - we are critically understaffed,” says Jonathon Baker, President of OFNHP. “This could spell disaster for the future of patient care at Kaiser Permanente if it’s not immediately addressed. The solution to this is to take all necessary measures to attract and retain qualified staff, and we do that by making Kaiser a better place to work.”
Both OFNHP and ILWU Local 28 are fighting for staffing at the local level, and will be pushing for a new union contract in 2025 to address the conditions that created the crisis in the first place. The Alliance of Healthcare Unions, which represents a total of 53,000 workers across the country, is demanding that Kaiser address these conditions, both in the Pacific Northwest and in every Kaiser region.