[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]
I first decided to become a registered nurse because of a deep commitment to helping people. I earned a master’s degree in nursing with a focus on leadership and education. I have spent half my life – a total of 35 years – at Highline Medical Center, where I am a nurse in the emergency department. Additionally, I have spent 10 years as a nurse educator. After all these years of service, I am saddened to say that I have watched Highline change from an independent community hospital into a major corporation under CHI Franciscan, where the focus of executives seems to be on acquisition and promotion rather than the needs of our patients.
Staffing at Highline is a major concern for the employees. As registered nurses, we are expected to be critical thinkers, and on the frontline coordinating and managing our patients’ care. However, we do not have enough help to provide patients with the care they deserve. Highline recently violated our union contract and increased the number of patients per nurse in the emergency department. Often, we find ourselves with acutely ill patients all arriving simultaneously who need the services of multiple nurses to stabilize their condition. Making matters worse, we have seen a vast increase in patients with mental health and substance abuse problems, so our emergency department techs are often occupied with monitoring them and unable to help with other cases.
Understaffing goes beyond nursing and affects many other job titles and departments. In environmental services, a reduced workforce is required to clean more patient rooms than time permits and gaps in staffing are too often filled by temporary agencies that do not have adequate training for a hospital setting. Environmental service workers are team members in the constant fight for infection control, and when they are overburdened and unable to properly clean, it creates unsafe conditions in which life-threatening diseases can spread.
When we have raised our grave concerns about understaffing with executives, they have said we need to “meet our productivity grids,” which makes it seem like they are more concerned with crunching numbers and making profits than ensuring the safety and well-being of patients. We are not a factory, we are a hospital caring for a diverse community and their family members.
In addition to understaffing, Highline/CHI Franciscan has been making other dangerous cuts which put patients and workers at risk. It is a sad and shocking irony, but executives are actually trying to cut health benefits for healthcare workers. Hospital staff are constantly exposed to communicable illness. Health benefits are a necessary tool to keep ourselves and our children healthy, so we can provide quality care to our community.
But management is trying to take away our current, affordable health plan and replace it with only CHI corporate plans which have much higher premiums, co-pays, co-insurance payments, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. In addition, they are proposing steep cuts to our retirement benefits and our wages are lagging other area hospitals. As a result of all these problems, we now have a revolving door because workers are overwhelmed, and 327 nurses and caregivers have left Highline since 2016.
To solve these problems and protect our patients, the 550 members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW at Highline have been trying to negotiate a new union contract since June. Our major proposals include: improving staffing levels throughout the hospital; maintaining our current, affordable healthcare plan; creating more training and continuing education opportunities; preserving our retirement benefits; implementing joint labor-management processes to guard against racial injustice and discrimination in the workplace; and raising wages to meet the standard for other area hospitals in order to attract and keep qualified staff.
Unfortunately, management has not been negotiating in good faith, even though we know they have the resources to make improvements. CHI Franciscan is doing very well financially, with $1.4 billion in revenue last year. Recently, CHI merged with Dignity Health to form CommonSpirit Health, the largest “non-profit” healthcare corporation in America by revenue, with more than 700 facilities in 21 states.
To add insult to injury, after an exhausting day at work, I turn on the TV and see ads for CHI Franciscan during sports events and music award shows. The thought occurs to me, how expensive those ads must be, and how we could really use that money for more staff to safely care for our patients. As Highline has become part of a sprawling corporate giant, my co-workers and I are standing up to hold executives in far-off boardrooms accountable, and make sure they are investing in quality patient care and good jobs at our local hospital. It’s time for them to listen.
– Marghee Baldridge, MN, RN
Marghee Baldridge, MN, RN is an emergency department nurse and member leader of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, who has worked at Highline Medical Center for the past 35 years.
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