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Nurses strike looms at Providence

Nurses at Providence Medford Medical Center are edging closer to a strike, citing deteriorating working conditions that contributed to 42 percent of registered nurses leaving in 2016.

“We’ve lost hundreds of nurses,” said Dan Richmond, a registered nurse who is part of the Oregon Nurses Association bargaining unit. “We’ve had high turnover, and we’ve had a hard time recruiting new members.”

The high turnover and lack of sufficient staff have sometimes led to difficulties giving patients their medications on time, Richmond said.

A bargaining session last week fell apart after hospital officials and the nurses union failed to agree on scheduling issues for nurses, he said. In addition to improved working conditions, including consistent schedules, the association is asking for a pay hike to help attract new nurses.

The nurses will vote Wednesday on whether they should hold an informational picket if an upcoming bargaining session fails to muster an agreement.

The picket will be a rally where nurses, during their off-time, gather to tell the community about the issues they face.

Nurses at Providence have a hard time knowing what their schedule will be, forcing them to find someone to pick up their kids at the last minute or arranging time off, Richmond said. Because they don’t have enough people to staff the hospital, nurses are sometimes unable to take breaks.

Dave De Rurange, spokesman for Providence Medford, said, “Providence is negotiating in good faith with our nurses, and we are confident that we are going to be able to reach an agreement.”

De Rurange didn’t respond to a number of questions from the Mail Tribune based on remarks made by the nurses.

The 287 nurses at Providence Medford have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2017.

Registered nurse Christalyn Matlock said the current situation at Providence is hard on families and on patients because nurses are not at their best due to stress, long hours and high turnover.

“I’m ready to see a change,” she said, while holding her 1-year-old daughter, Zoey, outside the hospital Thursday.

Kevin Mealy, spokesperson for the Oregon Nurses Association, said the situation at Providence is having an impact on its ability to hire new nurses.

When Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center’s new contract takes effect in July, its nurses will make 5 percent more than those at Providence.

According to Mealy, a new, full-time nurse at Providence earns $70,720 annually while a new nurse at RRMC after July will earn $74,277.

He said Providence Medford currently has the lowest pay of any of the eight Providence hospitals in Oregon.

“Providence is not adequately prepared for a lack of retention or adequate recruitment,” Mealy said.

The percentage increase requested for nurses has gone back and forth during mediated bargaining sessions, but the pay being sought should be competitive with other area hospitals, Mealy said.

On the Providence website, it lists openings for 33 different types of nursing positions.

“At this point Providence Medford is having trouble filling open positions,” Mealy said. “One of the things that is the most concerning is the turnover rate.”

He said Oregon likely will face a shortage statewide of 6,000 nurses, and the Medford hospital needs to do a better job of attracting nurses locally.

Mealy said the average salary for a registered nurse in Oregon is $88,000.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Abby Sanchez, left, Josh Murray, Dan Richmond, Marco Sanchez, Evlynn Sanchez, 4 months, Christalyn Matlock, and Zoey Matlock, 1, stand outside Providence Medford Medical Center Thursday. The nurses are protesting working conditions as they edge toward a possible strike. - Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune