St. Charles home health and hospice nurses filed for a union election on Wednesday. On Thursday, one of them shared more about what led to that decision.
Home Health RN Karen Arthur sat in her van in the St. Charles Redmond parking lot after returning from visiting a patient near Lake Billy Chinook. She normally sees up to six patients each day across Central Oregon, nursing those discharged from the hospital who need extra care at home.
She was one of the 39 nurses who filed to join the Oregon Nurses Association, saying they haven’t had the adequate resources or policies to do their jobs.
“We’ve been asked to do more and more and provided with less and less resources to do so,” Arthur said. “We’ve continued to bring up our concerns with management and those concerns have continued to fall on deaf ears. We feel like we have no other choice but to come together as a group and ask for those things as a union.”
Complaints ranged from overwork to lack of proper policies that cover home health and hospice care, to strict productivity standards from the hospital.
“Sometimes when we go out to see a patient, you don’t know what you’re headed into because it’s not the kind of environment like when I show up to the hospital to work, I know exactly what’s there,” she said. “I know what the room looks like and I have all my supplies. When I show up to the home, sometimes those supplies haven’t been delivered. Sometimes we have third party agencies that deliver medications or specific supplies, sometimes they haven’t delivered those supplies. So being held to a very strict productivity standard is very difficult for nurses and doesn’t allow us to do our job.”
St. Charles did not acknowledge their request to unionize, instead deferring them to the National Labor Relations board to hold a secret ballot vote among the nurses to verify that a supermajority would like to join the union.
“Even though we have gone through that process, we have a list of names of everybody that wants to join a union. They said no, we want the NLRB to oversee it,” said Myrna Jensen, the Communications Specialist for ONA.
She said the hospital’s refusal to acknowledge the nurses’ request reveals a lot about their priorities.
“They’re looking out for their bottom line, they’re looking out for themselves. They’re not looking out for the worker. So our job is to look out for the worker,” Jensen said.
Arthur has been working with St. Charles since last December and she’s seen 10 home health employees leave since then, leaving them with a staff of 14.
A number of other groups of nurses have decided to unionize within the past few years, including respiratory therapists and surgical technicians.
“I feel like it just speaks volumes to the fact that the majority of employees at St. Charles don’t feel like the upper administration listens to us,” Arthur said.
Jensen added that she has seen an increase in nurses wanting to unionize over the past three years.
“The corporate healthcare system has not treated nurses well,” she said. “They have gone lean and mean. And that means making sure they have as few staff available as possible. So nurses around the state are realizing that if they are not unionized, it’s only getting worse.”
Arthur hopes that a union will mean a brighter future for herself and her colleagues.
“I just hope that by being part of a union, the nurses voice can be stronger, that we will have more of a say in our patient care and the policies to which we care for those patients, and that we can be treated well by our own employer and respected for what we do,” she said.
The NLRB is supposed to set a date for the nurses’ union secret ballot within the next few weeks.
St. Charles told Central Oregon Daily News on Wednesday that they respect the right of their employees to join a union, but they declined to recognize their petition for a union because they believe it’s important their employees have the right to vote on the matter in a secret ballot election.
We reached out to them for comment again on Thursday afternoon, and they said they had no further comment on the matter.