Astria Toppenish, a 63-bed community hospital serving members of the Yakama Nation and surrounding rural communities, signed a contract with its nurses making them among the highest paid in Eastern Washington.
“These raises are historic,” said Carmen Garrison, a nurse representative with the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), who was on the bargaining team for the nurses. “We’ve never seen these kinds of raises anywhere.”
The contract was ratified Aug. 19, 2022, by unanimous vote.
Registered nurses will receive raises of 21%-34%, increases in various premiums, and a much-wanted holiday for Christmas Eve.
“This contract raises everyone up,” said Julia Barcott, a registered nurse working in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. “People have told me. ‘I was looking around but now I’m staying.’”
Barcott said during the pandemic Toppenish lost 30 of 80 nurses and was relying on travel nurses to fill the gaps.
Staff were feeling demoralized, she said.
Nurses did not get retention bonuses unlike nurses in many neighboring hospitals. During contract negotiations, the nurses originally asked for higher wages and a bonus. Management came back with even better wages than they asked for and no bonus.
The new contract gives nurses stability for the first time in three years and shows they matter, Barcott said.
She gives kudos to the hospital management for taking bold steps to save this well-loved rural hospital by retaining and rewarding nurses.
The nurses and healthcare staff have saved many lives, she said.
Toppenish is part of a three-hospital system bought by Regional Health in September 2017 and a month later rebranded as Astria Health.
The nonprofit health system was facing huge financial issues and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2019. In early 2020, the health system closed its 214-bed hospital in Yakima.
During bankruptcy, Barcott said staff at Astria Health couldn’t cash out personal time off, there was a shortage of bed linen, supplies were scarce, and staff were wondering if their hospital was next to be shut down.
Then came COVID-19 and the wave of sick people, and staff were traumatized, said Barcott. She said a couple nurses even left for jobs in the trucking industry.
Living with this stress has been hard on everyone, including the community, many of whom are Native American, Hispanic, and Filipino with little access to preventative care.