BEND, OR -- Registered nurses at St. Charles Bend continue contract negotiations with the hospital. "The current three-year contract actually expired at the end of June," says Debbie Robinson, Chief Nursing Officer for St. Charles Bend, "But, we both agreed that we will continue under that contract, as we negotiate a new contract." She tells KBND News the hospital and union have met nearly a dozen times, "I think we’re right on track of where we would be after 11 sessions back and forth. We do have another four or five sessions – maybe six – between now and the end of November." She believes a new contract will be in place later this fall.
In 2015, it took both sides more than six months of talks to agree to the last three-year contract.
Wednesday evening, Registered Nurses are expected to take part in a rally amid this latest round of negotiations. Kevin Mealy, with the Oregon Nurses Association, disagrees with the hospital's assessment that things are "on track." He says union members had hoped an agreement would be in place before the previous contract expired, "It’s stretched beyond that. But, what we’re also doing is trying to raise awareness about problems that are happening in the hospital, and what we can do to fix it."
He says the nurses are worried about the typical labor issues, like wages and the rising cost of employee health insurance. But, according to Mealy, their biggest concern is the hospital’s failure to address what he calls patient safety issues, "A year ago, the state conducted an independent investigation that found hundreds of staffing violations and we’re still going through a process of trying to resolve some of these problems." Those violations include temporarily doubling the number of patients nurses care for, and incomplete staffing plans. "Adding appropriate staff is one of the best ways we can improve the quality of healthcare that patient get. More nurses means fewer injuries and infections, it means shorter, less expensive hospital stays for patients, and we know it can decrease the rate of bad outcomes."
Robinson says the hospital is committed to finding common ground, "Patient safety is our top priority; it’s the top priority for the hospital, and it’s the top priority for the nurses. So, we stay focused on that, we’ll come forward with an improved contract that serves our community."
The ONA represents nearly 900 RNs at St. Charles Bend. Mealy expects more than a hundred will take part in the rally at Third and Revere, Wednesday, from 5 to 7:45 p.m. He says only nurses not scheduled to work during that time will take part.