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Providence is treating its nurses unfairly

As a resident of Southern Oregon, I am proud to see how our community has come together during COVID-19 and the Almeda wildfire. It has been a challenging year, where, like all nurses across the state of Oregon, we have been working in high-risk, high stress situations during a very vulnerable time.

I am also proud to be a nurse at Providence Medford Medical Center. People come from all over Southern Oregon to receive the excellent care we provide. But while I am proud to be a nurse there, I am extremely disappointed in the leadership’s failure to support nurses and come to an agreement on solutions that would allow our hospital to reduce staff shortages that are putting an extra strain on care and patient safety.

In the last year alone, Providence Medford has lost nearly 80 nurses, including 40 in acute care, losing decades of experience in a time when nurses are more crucial than ever. Many new RNs begin their careers at PMMC, obtain a year or two of experience, then move to hospitals that have better compensation and opportunities for growth.

I believe the nurses at PMMC feel undervalued. Nurses throughout the hospital have cross-trained to other units so they can be supportive and ready in the event of a surge of COVID-19 patients. Many nurses were “pigeonholed” to care for only COVID patients, and many without adequate PPE. Nurses are not provided regular COVID testing in the event of exposure, potentially risking themselves and their families. My father is at high risk and I feel like I am putting his health in danger every time I see him — even when we use masks and maintain social distancing.

After a year of the pandemic, we are still having to reuse PPE. Emergency pay was not provided to staff who either tested positive for COVID, had a family member test positive or became ill from COVID.

I work with a nurse who contracted COVID. She was never compensated by Providence and relied simply on her credit cards to survive, for over six months. She did not return to PMMC and accepted a position at another hospital. I have gotten so worried about getting sick and having to work without pay, that I have purchased my own long-term disability policy.

There is just no excuse for this. Providence Health Systems is one of the richest in the country, sitting on $12 billion in reserves and investment income. Meanwhile, short staffing means nurses go without breaks, work many hours of overtime, have greater patient assignments and face burnout.

We want the community to know our plight. We need their support, those folks who have been patients at PMMC, who can attest to the wonderful care we provide, and who want our nurses to be valued and respected for the great work we do. Therefore, we are standing united in our union — the Oregon Nurses Association — for a contract that protects both patients and nurses.

We ask you to please learn more about the safety and retention steps we are calling for and join us by urging Providence executives to come to the table with a reasonable offer to ensure we have the staffing and the tools to safely do our jobs during the pandemic and beyond.

Milan Beebe, RN, BSN, is an Oregon Nurses Association member at Providence Medford Medical Center.