Oregon nurses show solidarity to raise healthcare standards

Hundreds of frontline nurses who work in Oregon’s Providence health system took part in an informational picket on March 15 outside Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland to call for better healthcare standards. The Oregon Nurses Association represents more than 4,000 frontline nurses working in 10 Providence health system facilities in the state. The nurses took to the streets to improve patient safety by calling on Providence to address its staffing crisis and raise its standards to recruit and retain caregivers.

Oregon Nurses Association picketing

“It’s so incredibly important that our patients come first,” said Maureen Cooper-Gaine, an ONA member and home health nurse at Providence. “I’m here to protect my fellow nurses, and we’re all here to protect our patients,” she said.

Despite nurses’ sacrifices over the last two years serving on the frontlines of a deadly pandemic, Providence has left hundreds of frontline nurses working without the safety and security of a contract. Providence allowed nurse contracts at major Oregon hospitals like Providence St. Vincent and Providence Willamette Falls to expire last year. Other contracts are also set to expire and are in bargaining.

“This pandemic has united nurses like never before, and yet, it has also led to nurses leaving the profession of nursing like never before. Providence is losing experienced nurses because they are choosing profits over people,” said Jamie Aguilar, an ONA member and home health nurse at Providence. “Nurses are the foundation of the healthcare profession, and we deserve safer working conditions, affordable healthcare and a contractual commitment to staffing that provides rest periods and takes patient conditions into consideration,” she said.

“Patients would agree that quality care is provided when nurses are supported, and supporting nurses creates healthy communities,” said Aguilar. “Providence is choosing to drag out negotiations by continuing to refuse these reasonable requests, and nurses are becoming more unified and committed to taking collective action. Every time Providence says no to nurses, our solidarity grows stronger. Providence needs to come to the table and agree to raise standards for Oregon nurses.”

Nurses are asking Providence for basic safety standards to protect patients, staff and families, including:

  • Stronger patient safety standards to be better prepared for future COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure the highest standards of care for all.
  • Safe nurse staffing to ensure high-quality care and patient access.
  • Affordable healthcare and paid leave so frontline nurses can seek care after COVID-19 exposures and afford healthcare for their own families.
  • A fair compensation package that allows hospitals to recruit and retain the skilled frontline caregivers our communities need to stay healthy and safe.

Throughout the pandemic, nurses have led efforts to increase access to free COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, upgrade workplace safety standards through state and national OSHA standards, provide free mental health support to frontline workers and improve mask availability and use. They have also supported frontline healthcare workers through efforts to provide proper personal protective equipment, timely disease exposure notifications, COVID-19 sick leave and worker input on COVID-19 and other key healthcare issues.

“Thousands of frontline nurses are fighting for the basics—safe staffing, better patient care, affordable health insurance and caregiver retention. During the pandemic, Providence turned away ambulances, forced Oregonians to wait long hours in COVID-crowded ERs and put patients at risk due to low staffing. Now Providence has left frontline nurses working without a contract and with no clear plan to improve care in the future,” said John Smeltzer, ONA executive committee president at Providence St. Vincent and a registered nurse. “The pandemic proved the status quo is unsustainable. Our patients and frontline caregivers deserve more.”

[Adrienne Coles, ONA press release]