Kadlec nurses rally to keep staff and patients safe, they say

Kadlec nurses rally in Richland

Kadec nurses rallied on Friday at John Dam Plaza in Richland as contract negotiations continue with Providence.
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Kadec nurses rallied on Friday at John Dam Plaza in Richland as contract negotiations continue with Providence.

Kadlec nurses rallied Friday afternoon in Richland for safe staffing levels, paid time-off benefits and protection from violence as contract negotiations after passed the six-month mark.

It’s the second round of contentious contract negotiations for the 915 nurses employed at Kadlec Regional Medical Center since the Richland hospital affiliated with Providence Health & Services in 2014.

In December 2015 as nurses worked under an expired contract, an advisory vote on a possible strike won 90 percent approval from nurses who voted. A possible strike was averted when Kadlec and nurses came to agreement on a new contract in January 2016.

But nurses are again working under an expired contract.

In the current contract negotiations, an 11th session is set for Monday and will be the first one with a mediator.

“We won’t allow Providence to put profits over nurse and patient safety at Kadlec,” said a release from Washington State Nurses Association. “If Providence execs refuse to commit to safe staffing levels or tell nurses to give up even more of their rest time, they will put patients’ safety at risk.”

Paid time off an issue

Providence wants to cut paid time off for more senior nurses after extended illness benefits already were cut in the previous round of negotiations, according to the nursing group.

The paid time off covers vacations, sick leave and instances when nurses volunteer to leave work because of low numbers of patients.

Firefighters and paramedics from Kennewick and Richland show support for Kadlec nurses at a rally Friday at John Dam Plaza in Richland. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Nurses are asking for staffing levels that provide for enough nurses to allow them to take paid time off, according to the state nurses association.

Adequate staffing levels also make sure that no nurse is left to face an abusive or violent patient on their own, the association said.

Two Kadlec nurses were assaulted in separate, serious incidents in September.

In one case a patient threatened to kill an intensive care nurse and then squeezed her neck, preventing her from breathing for as long as 30 seconds until other nurses came to her aid.

In the other case, a mentally ill emergency room patient hit a nurse on the side of her head and body slammed her. The nurse was left with bulging disks in her back and a concussion.

Kadlec says benefits are good

Kadlec nurses are asking for protection against violence in their contract, including improved security staffing.

“Nurses who work at Kadlec tells us that the steps Providence-Kadlec has taken to address workplace violence aren’t enough to make them feel safe doing their job,” said Ruth Schubert, spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association.

The contract must ensure that increased security or better training isn’t a passing fad on the part of the hospital, she said.

Kadlec released a statement Friday saying its benefits package is among the most competitive in the state.

The hospital is proposing up to seven weeks of paid time off for vacation, holidays, sick leave and family-care leave for experienced nurses, it said.

Annual pay for a full-time nurse at Kadlec averages about $70,000, with a newly graduated nurse making a base salary of about $58,000 a year, according to Kadlec.

Kadlec has bolstered its security work force to keep staff safe as violence at health care facilities has become a national issue, it said. All caregivers receive annual workplace violence prevention training.

Staffing plans are set annually by a team of leadership and bedside nurses each year, it said.

It trusts its nurses’ clinical judgment on when to safely take breaks from patient care.

Kadlec also emphasized that it consistently earns high scores on multiple systems that measure quality and safety.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.