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Oregon nurses union calls for safety protocols agreement at Providence health

The Oregon Nurses Association is turning up the pressure on Providence hospitals to come to an agreement that would provide COVID-19 safety guidelines for all of its hospitals.

Dozens of Providence nurses gathered Friday to demand the health system honor what they call “the COVID-19 Bill of Rights.” The union, which represents more than 4,000 nurses working at Providence’s health care facilities, said this agreement would be in line with industry standards.

The guidelines recommend providing appropriate personal protective equipment for everyone, additional time off for nurses to care for themselves and their families, access to frequent COVID-19 testing and generally ensuring a safe work environment.

“Our community is counting on Oregon Nurses Association nurses, and we will be there for them just as they are here for us. We’ll keep fighting to make sure their health care is safe and affordable,” ONA President Lynda Pond, RNC, said in an emailed statement.

Several nurses spoke at a rally in front of the Providence Portland Medical Center on Friday afternoon in Northeast Portland. Catalina Clarke is a registered nurse there and said for her, one of the biggest stressors about her job is a lack of adequate staffing.

“When I get texts from Providence’s staffing department telling me that the hospital is more than 20 nurses short for that day, and I come into work, it’s daunting,” Clarke said.

She said an agreement with Providence would provide a clear plan that benefits both staff and patients.

“It will provide all of us a lot of mental health benefits to know what we can expect for PPE when we walk into our job,” Clarke said. “The more we feel uncertain about what our situation is and our safety, the more it affects our patient care. And I don’t want that trickling into them.”

Multnomah County Commissioner Dr. Sharon Meieran, an emergency room physician, is in support of the union and said nurses are the lifeblood of the health care system.

“We’ve heard from Providence nurses about inconsistent access to personal protective equipment, limited paid sick time, inadequate testing resources, and more. This kind of response was difficult to accept early in the pandemic; 11 months in, it’s inexcusable,” Meieran said in an emailed statement.

Nurses have been asking Providence to meet their COVID-19 safety requests since an initial protections agreement expired at the end of May.

Providence did not respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa