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Nurses rally ahead of contract negotiations

January 24, 2019
Washington State Nurses Association representative Sydne James speaks Tuesday during a rally on the steps of the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon.

MOUNT VERNON — Registered nurses with Skagit Regional Health rallied Tuesday to demand changes to staffing, compensation and benefits.

“The main thing is staffing,” said Ruth Schubert, communications director with the Washington State Nurses Association. “Nurses work around the clock in all units of the hospital.”

The rally came ahead of a contract negotiation session scheduled for Friday — the 14th such meeting since May and the first that will include a state mediator.

About 65 people attended the rally in front of the Skagit County Courthouse in Mount Vernon.

Liz Rainaud, a registered nurse who has worked in Skagit Valley Hospital’s birth center for 18 years, said the hospital is losing some of its best nurses to other hospitals where staffing, compensation and benefits are better.

“We have a great bunch of nurses, but we’re struggling,” she said. “This used to be the place to work. Now, we’re losing (nurses).”

In a statement, Skagit Regional Health said it is working to address the staffing concerns but declined to comment further.

Schubert said the association represents about 525 registered nurses who work at both Skagit Valley Hospital and the clinics owned by Skagit Regional Health.

At the rally, nurses said the lack of staffing gets in the way of patient care.

“It’s very distressing for a nurse if they can’t give their patient the best possible care,” Schubert said.

Amy Richards, a nurse who has been with the hospital for seven years, works nights in the emergency department.

“My nurses and doctors trust me to make sure they have equipment that works, enough staff to provide safe care and inpatient beds for their patient to get well in,” she said at the rally. “Almost every shift, I am unable to fulfill those duties.”

She said she constantly sees patients waiting to be triaged, but there aren’t enough nurses to take care of them.

In terms of benefits, Rainaud said Skagit Regional Health staff pay more than $1,000 per month for health insurance for themselves, their spouse and their children.

She said she’s heard from many nurses who have left the organization who are paying significantly less for the same coverage elsewhere.

Without reining in benefit costs, there is no way Skagit Regional Health can be competitive and retain staff, she said.

Schubert said the nurses’ existing contract expires in May.

The nurses’ union agreed to a one-year contract in May 2017, which was automatically extended by one year in May 2018, she said.

Registered nurses at Island Hospital in Anacortes and PeaceHealth United General Medical Center in Sedro-Woolley are under contract through Oct. 31, 2020.

Island Hospital nurses ratified their most recent contract in May and United General Medical Center nurses in December 2017.

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