Providence nurses complain labor shortage leaves patients at risk

It is the season for respiratory infections, and emergency rooms across Washington are in crisis mode as pediatric capacity is remarkably strained, according to state health officials. 

All of this is happening while nurses complain working conditions are deteriorating, exacerbated by a labor shortage. 

Last week, the Snohomish County Council penned a letter to leaders at Providence Medical Center in Everett saying more must be done to keep nurses on the job, and patients safe. 

"It’s beyond a crisis," said Dana Robison who has spent nearly 10 years at Providence. 

Robison says staffing struggles have persisted through her career, but since the pandemic she says more nurses are leaving and fewer are joining the ranks. 

"So many people have walked away," she said. "It tells you how it’s complete darkness for some people."

Robison spoke at Everett City Council in October. She shared warnings with Snohomish County Council in August, too. Nurses have been complaining to North Sound elected leaders for months and many front-line workers are reaching their limit. 

"I think it’s clear in the data that nurses are leaving," said Megan Dunn, Chair of Snohomish County Council. 

In mid-November, the council penned a letter highlighting nurses’ concerns and sent it to providence leadership. 

The council says it heard complaints about low morale among support staff and nurses who believe burnout and resignations result in a turnover rate rising beyond industry standards.

The staffing crisis means care-quality suffers, and nurses told the council they are left to bear the brunt of patients’ frustrations. 

Nurses said they fear the crisis may harm patients, which could put their license at risk.

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The council says employees complained capacity was so stretched at one point, acute care patients and some going into labor were told to find care elsewhere – plus, procedures were forced to delay or cancel for some high-risk patients.

The council's letter says some employees believe profits are prioritized over patients, staff and the community as front-line wages stagnate and executive salaries swell. 

Even though the county council lacks jurisdiction, Dunn says the nurse's message had to be shared. 

"I think we need to find out why nurses are leaving so urgently and find what to do to bring them back," she said. 

Providence responded to the council's letter quickly, sharing acknowledgment for the concern and echoing the need to retain and hire more nurses. 

Providence's letter says a comprehensive retention and recruitment plan aims to work with union partners, offers competitive wages and leans on frontline staff to learn what works and what doesn’t.

The hospital also says it has significantly reduced executive and admin staff to cut costs, still providence reports $110-million in losses since September 2021. 

Providence says partnerships with educators aim to create career pipelines for youth. 

Robison contends lawmakers may play a role ensuring patients don’t get left behind.

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"We need state and federal laws that help us keep staff at the bedside to keep patents safe," she said.

Dunn says council can help by listening, and sharing the nurse's cries for help, but significant help likely comes from Olympia. 

"We don't have jurisdiction over decision-making, but we can do what we are doing now," Dunn said. "Amplifying voices of nurses, and we offered support for state legislative fixes Providence may have."