Nurses at MultiCare hospital vote 'no confidence' in system CEO

Nurses at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Wash., who are members of the Washington State Nurses Association, have voted "no confidence" in the CEO of their parent organization.

Pamela Devi Chandran, the union's chief negotiator and counsel, told Becker's 377 nurses — more than half of the bargaining unit — voted unanimously May 16 that they lacked confidence in Bill Robertson's ability to lead. The union represents about 750 nurses at MultiCare Good Samaritan, part of Tacoma, Wash.-based MultiCare Health System. Mr. Robertson helms the health system.

The vote comes as union members have been in negotiations with the hospital since February and have met for 15 sessions. For the last several sessions, a federal mediator has been involved in negotiations.

MultiCare Health System shared a statement with Becker's saying that the organization "remains committed to bargaining in good faith with WSNA with the goal of reaching a fair contract that supports a safe, equitable and economically sustainable workplace. MultiCare has been negotiating with WSNA since February, and we believe the best way to come to an agreement that satisfies both parties is at the bargaining table."

During negotiations, staffing and break nurses are the most critical issues for union members at the table, Ms. Devi Chandran said, noting that raises/wages are not a point of contention. 

She said the union has made several proposals on these issues, including proposing nurse-to-patient ratios, which the Washington State Nurses Association has in its collective bargaining agreement with MultiCare Tacoma General. 

"The union's most recent staffing proposal was based on the hospital's state-submitted staffing matrix, clarifying that a charge nurse should be 'free' (that is, not have patients assigned to them), that units in dire need also have 'free' flex or resource nurses (an additional RN who can assist RNs with patients), and adequate break coverage," Ms. Devi Chandran said. 

Regarding break coverage, she said nurses believe the hospital's current "buddy system" — in which a nurse with a patient assignment takes on another nurse's patients so that nurse can take a break — is an unsafe practice and "greatly diminishes the quality of patient care a nurse can provide, and puts unbearable stress on nurses who are already grossly understaffed."

Instead, the union seeks designated break nurses.

MultiCare Health System said management understands the pressures nurses are facing, which have intensified in the last six months during the "tripledemic" of flu, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19 surges.

"We hear the concerns they voice over staffing levels and burnout. We value and support our nurses not just with words, but also with actions," the health system said.

The organiztion said management has proposed adding meal and break assignments to each unit based on time needed to cover those meals and breaks.

"We built this proposal using an established model created by the bargaining team RNs, with two minor changes to the first set of effective dates," MultiCare Health System said. "We adjusted the effective dates to allow time to make this addition successful. Our proposal would allow time for the new contract (and new rates) to take effect, giving us time to recruit and train more RNs — thus gathering the required staffing levels to support adding meal and break assignments."

Regarding staffing, the health system said "it is worth noting that MultiCare currently has more than 300 open RN positions at Good Samaritan Hospital. We will continue to be aggressive in our recruiting as we seek to improve the existing workplace environment."

The union is accusing Mr. Robertson of disregarding staff proposals, according to

Ms. Devi Chandran said management countered the Washington State Nurses Association's  last proposal by offering an annual "financial workshop" presented by its CFO to rank-and-file nurses who sit on the staffing committee.

"Our top priority is a fair contract that supports staff as well as patients and the communities we serve. MultiCare believes in paying market-competitive salaries and benefits. We must also ensure our services remain affordable for patients and that our hospitals remain fiscally sound so that we can continue providing health care services to the community," the health system said.

The next bargaining session is May 22.

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