On April 27th, over a hundred union members and supporters walked the picket line at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center over the problems facing the Emergency Department over the proceeding several months. Workers yelled chants, held signs, and helped to raise the voice of the Emergency Department staff, who have put up with dismal working conditions as they fight to give their patients the best care possible.
“What we are trying to do here is draw attention to issues of supply, cleanliness, staffing and staff retention that have been plaguing our department for years. With a 57% turnover rate, and low staff morale, [as well as a] dismantled partnership processes that was previously successful, and were becoming a model for other departments, and promptly threw scheduling and staffing into turmoil by not considering the current practice,” says Jay Girard, an RN who has chosen to leave Kaiser after 5 years.
He is one of many former Emergency staff who have left the department over issues of understaffing, scheduling problems, and a lack of voice on the job. While many of our members wore union red on the picket line, several of the former ED staff members wore black to signify their mourning for having to leave their positions.
“We have been trying to work with Kaiser in Partnership to solve these issues and have been thwarted on even the smallest proposals. We are here to hopefully raise some attention to these matters, and have Senior Leadership take seriously the voices of those of us who work everyday to protect the health of this community at all times, and especially during this pandemic,” says Girard."
The issues have emerged from radical changes in the department, including short staffing, shifting scheduling protocols, and a reduction of management’s participation in partnership meetings. This has led the ED staff to start organizing, including a “sticker campaign” to raise the issues on the shop floor. They have issued eleven demands, which are all reasonable measures that management can take to address the problems that are plaguing the department.
We had colleagues from other unions in the Kaiser system, including fellow Alliance members from ILWU Local 28 as well as supporters from SEIU Local 49. The picket brought together every bargaining unit at Kaiser, uniting to send the message that an understaffed Emergency Department affects all workers and their patients.
“The ED staff at Sunnyside are the critical piece of our care system that has protected our entire state from this pandemic and the other health problems that threaten our communities, and the only way to ensure the efficacy of this department is to put them back in the driver’s seat and let their voices be heard. This is the only way to protect our patients. This is the only way to have a just healthcare system,” says Mindy Schiebler, a Sunnyside RN.
Right now we are seeing a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 numbers, which means our hospitals have to be staffed correctly. Recently the Sunnyside ED’s overnight shift only had three RNs, which is less than half of optimum. This is ensuring long wait times and can stretch the work of the staff, which does not bode well for quality patient care. If we see significant issues around COVID numbers then this makes the understaffing in the ED even more devastating. These issues did not emerge as a result of COVID-19, but they will make the situation worse if they are not addressed.
“I am out here fighting for safe staffing for our department. We have had a loss of about 40 nurses in the last year. The high amount of turnover is causing the high amount of wait time for our patients because it does not allow our nurses to open up rooms,” says Emergency Room RN Karlee Hoffart, a twenty year employee at Kaiser Permanente.” We have a lack of voice in our RN workflows. We are going to be a department of new hires and travelers...I want us to have a well staffed emergency room for our patients."
Now it is up to management to step up and address these issues, and the massive picket and community support we have seen will pressure them to come to the table. Without these problems being adequately addressed the hospital cannot continue as a leader fighting COVID-19 or in supporting the Portland area.
This fight happens right as we head into contract bargaining, where all six of our KP bargaining units are heading to local tables as we fight nationally as part of the Alliance. With Kaiser pushing cuts and challenging our partnership, it is critical that we unite as one union and support one another in this fight.