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A look at Wenatchee’s Confluence Health Central

Nurses want public to know that a union is also about community

This story was published in the Winter 2024 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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Confluence Health, one of Wenatchee’s biggest employers, used to be known as a wonderful place for nurses to work. There was a sense of community, camaraderie, and a good relationship with management.

The central campus, formerly known as Central Washington Hospital, is a beautiful, modern building in Wenatchee Valley. Nurses have been there for 20, 30, and 40 years, and WSNA has represented the nurses there for 50 years.

Fully staffed, Confluence Health Central should have more than 500 nurses. Today, it has about 350.

As with many health systems, the COVID pandemic left lasting scars. Nurses became divided over politics and whether to get the vaccine. Many nurses left. And then came a big change in upper management — a new CEO and an expanded role for the chief financial officer (CFO) with a focus on financial incentives. The CFO now oversees departments that used to be overseen by the chief nursing officer.

Gone are the days when top management knew everyone and walked around to meet patients and staff. Nurses call it the era of corporate healthcare. Nurses say decisions are made from the top down without their input, including the implementation of staffing plans.

Some units, such as labor and delivery, are staffed with national recommendations for the ratios of nurses to patients. However, other units, such as surgical, are getting seven to nine patients on nights instead of the recommended four or five. This fall, a nurse even reported working on the night shift on the Medical/Oncology unit with a 12-patient load.

In February, nurses gave the new CEO, Dr. Andrew Jones, a jar of 5,000 jellybeans representing every time a nurse missed their break. They also gave Dr. Jones a 15-page letter with evidence supporting the financial benefits of increased nurse staffing and documented research showing the increased patient injury and mortality rate with larger assignments.

The nurses have invited Dr. Jones to staffing meetings. But he has never come.

Nurses say that if the hospital has safe staffing, more nurses will come, there will be better outcomes, and the hospital will benefit financially.

The nurses are tired of the division. They want to spend their energy mentoring young nurses and rebuilding their beloved pre-COVID community.

In September, WSNA’s bargaining unit at Confluence Health Central organized a big celebration at the Sunrise Ranch to celebrate WSNA’s 50 years at the hospital. They had music, face painting, awesome food, and table decorations with fun nursing humor.

These nurses want the public to know that a union is not just about contracts. It’s about community and making healthcare great.

Wenatchee, in north central Washington, has a large small-town feel, with a population of 35,433, 64.5 percent white, according to the 2022 census. Wenatchee Valley has a population base of more than 250,000 people.

“Wenatchee” comes from “Wenatchi,” the indigenous meaning for a “river flowing from a canyon” or the “robe of the rainbow.” The Wenatchi people are part of the larger Native American group known as the Interior Salish.

The dozen nurses interviewed for this article say they love the area, the nearby towns of Leavenworth and Chelan, the local festivals, and the vibe. They said they will fight to stay here.

As they will tell you, nurses are the voice of change. They know what changes affect patient care because they have patient expertise.

They are counting on a return to nurse collaboration and focus on caring for the community they serve.

In 2013, Confluence Health merged Central Washington Hospital and Wenatchee Valley Hospital (now the Mares campus of Confluence Health). The nurses at Mares organized with WSNA in July 2023.