Nurses, health care providers and local elected leaders took part Monday in an informational picket outside St. Charles Medical Center in Bend over pay, staffing and the effect on patient care.
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) union said the picket meant to call attention to what it says is low pay that is contributing to a staffing shortage at St. Charles. But St. Charles says its pay scale is one of the most-competitive in the state.
“We’re really struggling being short-staffed right now is one of our biggest problems that’s effecting the community the most. The hospital currently I think has 300+ nursing positions open and it’s causing the nurses that are there to take more patients. It’s not great, not safe for people,” said Kelsey Kelly, a registered nurse.
ONA says is seeking what it calls a fair contract “to improve our community’s health and safety.” The union claims St. Charles has struggled to fully staff due to salaries that make it difficult for caregivers to be able to afford to live in the communities they serve.
“We are concerned of the direction the hospital’s going. We’re still far apart at the negotiating table. We still see that lack of nurses and the impact it has on patients. Longer ER waits, long waits to get into the hospital, delayed and canceled surgeries. All of that affects our community. That’s what nurses are concerned about,” said Kevin Mealy, Communications Manager for the Oregon Nurses Association.
The ONA says St. Charles has reported needing to fill more than 330 vacant nursing positions. St. Charles says it reduced that number to 80. St. Charles said Monday it has hired more caregivers than it lost in the past nine months.
St. Charles recently provided a pay bump of $5, bringing the minimum wage for nurses to more than $95,000. The hospital says the average wage for nurses is at $108,000 — claiming that makes St. Charles wages the second highest in the state.
Mealy says the pay boost will help, but it doesn’t meet the mark.
“I think that will help, but I think what we’ve seen is that there’s still vacancies it hasn’t been enough,” said Mealy.
Central Oregon elected officials have also come to the nurses’ side. Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang, Bend Mayor Melanie Kebler and Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins all planned speak at the picketing event.
“These nurses deserve the best from our community,” said Perkins. “That means that they deserve good pay. They deserve safe hours and safe staffing. So I think the hospital really needs to step it up for our nurses.”
St. Charles says it has met with Bend nurses represented by the ONA 10 times to bargain on an updated contract, with many more scheduled throughout May and June.
“We respect our nurses for the difficult job they do caring for our patients and community and are proud to offer a competitive pay and benefit package,” Julie Ostrom, service line administrator for trauma and surgical services and a member of the St. Charles bargaining team, said in the statement.