Hundreds of nurses, patients and community leaders gathered outside St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma On Nov. 3 to demand the hospital improve conditions so nurses can provide safe, high-quality care to every patient. Nurses and supporters carried signs and rallied along J Street in front of the hospital to demand that CommonSpirit invest its profits in nurses and quality patient care.
Nurses represented by Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) have held 10 bargaining sessions over two months, but management refuses to invest in nurses and patient care. Nurses have asked the hospital to commit to safe staffing levels, fair compensation to retain qualified nurses, and common-sense measures to ensure nurses’ safety and dignity on the job.
“Every nurse at St. Joe’s wants to provide the best care for our patients,” said Yunna Flenord, an RN in St. Joe’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), “But we’re stretched so thin that often we’re struggling to provide just basic care. If you get sick, you deserve to have a nurse who can answer your questions and provide compassionate care. Sadly, that’s just not the case with staffing the way it is today.”
Nurses at St. Joe’s earn the lowest pay of any major hospital in the Tacoma area, including a huge 13.8% gap between St. Joe’s and Multicare Auburn. Prior to the pandemic, St. Joe’s already had turnover rates far above national averages. With the lowest pay in the region, chronic understaffing, and safety concerns, St. Joe’s nurses are leaving their jobs at a high rate.
“I’ve said too many goodbyes to nurses who made the hard decision to leave for jobs where they were treated fairly,” said Dakota Eckman, a first-year nurse in St. Joe’s nurse residency program. “I don’t understand why a company that made more than $5 billion in profit in the last year won’t pay enough to keep good nurses who want to work here.”
In addition to staffing and pay, nurses at St. Joe’s say the hospital’s inaction puts them in danger. Nurses have been seriously injured by patients. Nurses have also been followed and harassed when coming and going from their cars, and been victims of car break-ins.
“We’re not asking for the moon,” said Emily D’Anna, a Labor & Delivery nurse at St. Joe’s. “We just want a guarantee that there will be security in place to keep us safe from the time we pull into the parking lot until we get back on the road home. Is that really too much to ask?”
St. Joe’s nurses are demanding the hospital provide:
Safe staffing saves lives and ensures nurses can provide safe care to every patient. Chronic understaffing at St. Joe’s has led to a 600% increase in reports of unsafe staffing at St. Joe’s since the first quarter of 2020, with a similar increase in reported incidents where unsafe staffing posed a serious threat to the health and safety of a patient.
St. Joe’s nurses provide their community with excellent care, but their pay is the lowest for nurses at Tacoma-area hospitals. St. Joe’s parent corporation, CommonSpirit, brought in $5.45 billion in profit in Fiscal Year 2021. It’s time for CommonSpirit and St. Joe’s to provide competitive pay and benefits so qualified nurses will stay at the hospital.
In recent incidents, nurses have been assaulted at work, harassed on their way to and from the parking lots, and been the victims of vehicle break-ins. St. Joe’s refuses to take common-sense steps that would help protect the nurses who serve our community.
Despite numerous statements on the need for racial justice, CommonSpirit refuses to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday for holiday pay. Nurses serve—and come from—the local community, which is one of the most diverse in the Tacoma area with a significant Black population.