Providence Milwaukie Hospital, nurses focus on quality care amid divisive talks

Have you ever needed a nurse? Well, now we need you. You may or may not be aware of the Providence Milwaukie Hospital nurses' battle for a first contract. We have negotiated with the hospital administration for over 16 months, and there is no end in sight.

In December 2001, we voted overwhelmingly to unionize, primarily to assure the public that we can give quality patient care. What's the problem? Well, each day we are faced with:

• Increasing workloads and dwindling resources.

• Arbitrary patient-care decisions (in which nurses are not able to participate meaningfully).

• New equipment that we haven't been trained to use.

• A shrinking work force, thanks to a nursing shortage Ñ which is reinforced by the problems that hospital nurses encounter each day.

We joined the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals to work for the good of our hospital. I have worked at Providence Milwaukie for 20 years, and I have an emotional and spiritual investment in this hospital and this community.

I know that to recruit and retain good, quality nurses, we must have a hand in decisions that affect our capacity to care for patients. We must not be asked to use a piece of equipment (on a patient) that we have never seen before and haven't been trained to use. We must feel free to point out unsafe practices without fear of repercussions. We must be offered reasonable access to further training to update and maintain our nursing skills.

According to national surveys, nurses are leaving this profession primarily because of five factors:

1. Increased workloads and inadequate staffing and patient ratios.

2. Harmful changes in health care delivery systems.

3. Decreased quality of care.

4. Problems linked to increased use of unlicensed personnel.

5. Too much time spent on non-nursing tasks.

The nurses at Providence Milwaukie Hospital are working to change all of that at our hospital and in our community. But our administration is reluctant to let us engage in the problems or work to find solutions.

Although the federal government has already ordered our hospital to provide more nursing staff to our medical/surgical floor, where most patients stay, management refuses to staff safely. On one recent evening, two nurses were hurt on a single shift because of understaffing. This is not safe for nurses or for patients.

On July 11, we engaged in a one-day strike outside our hospital, from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday. We were striking over our hospital's continued unfair labor practices. We gave our administration the federally mandated 10 days' advance notice. This seems to be the only way to convince management that we are serious about making patient care our top priority.

Please support nurses in a statement on patient care. Speak to others on our behalf. We are working to make a better hospital for you and yours.

Barbara Cole is a registered nurse who works at Providence Milwaukie Hospital; she lives in Southeast Portland. She has three sons, one of whom is an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Portland Providence Medical Center.

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