Providence Portland says it will halt surgeries during nurses strike

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Nurses at two Providence hospitals are preparing to go on strike next week as they fight for a better contract, and Providence is warning of significant service cuts during the strike — particularly at Providence Portland Medical Center, where nearly all surgeries and neonatal intensive care will be suspended.

About 1,800 nurses at the Portland and Seaside hospitals and the Providence Home Health and Hospice divisions have been going through nine months of negotiations, and they say the upcoming five-day strike is their last resort.

“People are very sad and frustrated and they just want things to be better,” said Kimberly Martin, a registered nurse at Providence Portland.

Nurses are fighting for stronger benefits including paid sick time, hazard pay, and increased wages.

“It’s a huge slap in the face, especially for the longer-serving nurses,” said Richard Botterill, an emergency room nurse and union chair.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how disappointed I’ve been with the sisters of Providence for over 30 years, and I’ve just really noticed a change in their stance toward their employees,” added Martin.

Providence management was unable to talk with KGW on camera Tuesday but sent a statement last week saying they are waiting until the strike is over to resume negotiations. The strike is expected last five days.

Providence said it was confident it can continue to provide critical services during the strike, but with less staff available, some services will have to be limited or closed, and hospitals have begun preparing for that change.

“As we turn our full focus to preparing our ministries for strikes, we’ll return to the bargaining table once these strikes end with a continued commitment to reaching agreements on contracts that benefit our caregivers and their families,” Providence said.

Providence released a more detailed breakdown of the service reductions in Portland on Wednesday, and urged patients facing life-threatening events to consider going to other Portland hospitals if they are able to do so, as Providence emergency patients will likely face longer wait times.

All surgeries will be halted except for life-and-death emergency situations, Providence said, and the neonatal intensive care unit is being temporarily shut down, with babies being transferred to other hospitals. Many scheduled newborn deliveries will be rescheduled or delayed.

Patient transfers from other hospitals will be significantly reduced, Providence said, and the critical care unit will not longer take in patients in need of ECMO, a life support system for patients with life-threatening heart or lung problems.

Providence Seaside will reschedule elective surgeries and try to step down admittance for patients that don’t need acute care. Home Health visits are expected to continue with replacement nurses and other clinicians, Providence said.

Providence is in the process of bringing in travel nurses for next week, but some have expressed concern that the strike could jeopardize some patients’ care — like Phyllis DeCristofaro, who has been a Providence Portland patient for ten years.

“It would be affected if I had an emergency or something like that and there are no nurses… I think management needs to seriously take into consideration what the nurses want,” DeCristofaro said.

“It will put a strain on the hospital and the community, and the nurses have been feeling this strain and we hope they take steps to avoid that,” added Martin.

Nurses plan to start picketing Monday morning, followed by a rally outside Providence Portland that evening.

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