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Providence Health leader says ‘all hands on deck’ situation with nurses gone

Top nursing officer says system is dealing with ‘disruptive and emotional’ situation with units on strike and hopes new staffing law will help address nurses’ concerns
Nurses and other health care workers along with their supporters took to the picket lines outside Providence Portland Medical Center on Monday as the state’s largest nurses union called a five-day strike. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
June 22, 2023

Leaders of Providence Health & Services said Thursday that they are hopeful a major new nurse staffing law will address their workers’ concerns about workloads, burnout and patient safety. And they said they are ready to welcome back the 1,800 nurses after the five-day strike in Portland and Seaside ends —  but not right away.

The temporary staffing contract the health system signed with an outside company extends until 7 a.m. Saturday, whereas the five day strike called over contract negotiations ends at 7 p.m Friday, 12 hours earlier.

That said, Jessica Gentry, a chief nursing officer for Providence Health & Services, said in a press conference that the system is hopeful the two sides can come together on a deal soon.

“I think the strike has been very disruptive and emotional and expensive for all parties involved, and I think it’s important that we come back together and really look at a fair and reasonable contract at the end of the strike so that we can move into reconciliation and begin to heal as a community,” she said.

The comments came as the American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was preparing to speak at a nurses rally, and spokespeople for the Oregon Nurses Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The strike began at 5 a.m. Monday, affecting nurses at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside and workers at Providence Home Health and Hospice. 

Gentry declined to discuss the negotiations that stalled before the strike or speculate on what happens next, though a Providence official said the system has asked the union when talks can resume. 

Gentry also declined to say whether the health system would stick to an earlier stance that it would make a less generous offer if the strike happened. 

But she said she hopes a nurse staffing ratio bill now in the Legislature would help ease worries among hospital staff.

“We believe that this bill will address many of the concerns that our nurses are facing, while allowing us to continue providing high quality patient care to our community. When House Bill 2697 passes, we look forward to partnering with ONA on the implementation of this new bill,” she said.

As for the effect of the strike on health care, she initially said that “overall operations with the replacement workforce is going very smoothly.”

Later, in response to subsequent questions, she said “bringing in a replacement workforce is very complex and very challenging situation … It requires a significant level of supervision and focus, which is one of the reasons that we focus on that safe patient care during the time, when we have our own Providence nurses in the hospital. They’re very familiar with the layout, the geography and where equipment is and is not. 

“During this period of time, we provide additional level of leadership on all of the nursing units with the replacement workforce to ensure that we have people who are very familiar with the layout and the ministries or the hospitals, to support them. So it requires a significantly higher level of leadership presence… This is an all hands on deck situation. We have leaders from across the Providence Health System assisting.”

You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or at @NickBudnick on Twitter.