Amid stalled negotiations, union nurses at MultiCare’s Good Samaritan Hospital, Puyallup, approved a vote of no confidence against Bill Robertson, the CEO of the system.
The Washington State Nurses Association, which represents 750 nurses at the hospital, voted to reject Robertson's invitation to a Town Hall Discussion about the staffing issues they wanted to address through collective bargaining. The hospital's contract talks began in February and have now been completed after 15 sessions.
Scott Thompson, a spokesperson for MultiCare, said in a Business Journal statement that the company remains committed to bargaining with WSNA in good faith in order to reach a fair contract which supports a safe and equitable workplace. "We are aware of the stress that our nurses face, and this has only increased in the past six months due to the triple epidemics of influenza, RSV, and Covid-19. We understand the concerns that they express about staffing levels and burning out."
MultiCare, based in Tacoma operates 12 hospitals across the state. According to Business Journal research, Good Samaritan Hospital, which is one of the largest hospitals, had 22,678 patients in 2021.
In recent months, the tension between Puyallup's nurses and managers has been an anomaly in health care collective bargaining. Many hospital systems, in response to the nationwide shortage of nurses, have offered large raises months before their contracts expire to keep their workers.
These negotiations marked a change in the health care labor relations that, prior to pandemics, saw many contract discussions lingering for months.
Staffing levels remain a major concern for both executives and unions, despite raises for nurses. Executives claim they are trying to fill hundreds of vacant positions in hospitals across the state, but cannot afford to hire contract workers to fill those gaps due to the financial strains on many health care systems.
Olympian lawmakers recently passed a bill strengthening staffing models in large hospitals. This would include Good Samaritan. The new law stipulates that hospital executives will adopt staffing plans in 2025, with the help of staffing committees. They may also be fined if they fail to meet prescribed staffing levels.
Thompson stated that there are currently more than 300 registered nurse jobs available at Good Samaritan.
He added, "We will continue our aggressive recruiting in order to improve the current workplace environment." "We also need to ensure that our services are affordable for our patients and our hospitals are financially sound, so we can continue to provide health care services in the community."
MultiCare executives, according to nurses and managers at the Puyallup Hospital, have ignored recommendations made by their own staffing committees. They also expressed concerns over plans to expand the hospital by 160 beds, saying that the expansion would only worsen its staffing problems.