Oregon nurses' 5-day strike forces Providence to limit nonemergency services

About 1,800 of Providence’s Oregon nurses and clinicians are on strike this week amid contract negotiations, prompting the health system to cut back some services at its facilities to preserve capacity.

Three bargaining units of the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) kicked off their demonstration Monday morning and are scheduled to remain on the picket lines until late Friday. Demonstrations are being held at three Providence facilities: Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Seaside Hospital and Providence Home Health and Hospice.

The union said it has been negotiating with Providence management for eight months over “market competitive” wages, staffing levels, time off benefits and the quality of care being provided at Providence’s facilities.

In public statements, the health system said it had offered “a combined total package for the first year of the three contracts of nearly $35 million,” which included “double-digit increases” for existing salaries at the hospitals, up to $2,500 bonuses, enhanced short-term disability programs and additional paid time off at one hospital. The system noted that the average salary for a full-time nurse at the hospitals was $128,000 (Providence Portland) and $118,000 (Providence Seaside Hospital).

“We have tremendous nurses and clinicians,” the system said in a release. “We respect their right to strike, and we look forward to welcoming them back. It is an honor for all of us to provide healthcare services to our communities.”

ONA responded by saying Providence’s salary claims were “flat-out wrong” and “intentionally deceptive.” The $128,000 average more closely aligns with nurses’ top base wage of $61.82, the union said, and applying the proposed deal’s raises to the median nurse’s base salary would still fall “well short of their claims.”

ONA also said that Providence’s proposals and messaging are focused “exclusively on wages,” while many of the nurses' and clinicians’ concerns extend to care standards and other benefits.

“By their own admission, Providence refuses to address short staffing and patient safety concerns in the hospitals, not to mention the excessive caseload requirements placed on nurses and clinicians working in patient homes,” the union said in a statement released shortly before the strike. “Despite an unprecedented sacrifice during the pandemic by nurses and clinicians, Providence has made little effort to address our concerns around paid time off and has proposed almost no increases.”

Providence said it would resume bargaining after the strike ends this Friday. In the meantime, the system has “qualified replacement nurses” working alongside other staff for the week and has limited many non-emergency services across the locations.

Providence Portland, for instance, will stop all surgeries “except for life-and-death emergency surgeries” and will be evaluating and “significantly” reducing patient transfers from other hospitals, the organization said.

Though Providence noted that emergency patients at the hospital “will likely experience longer wait times,” both the system and the union stressed that any community members in need of immediate critical care should not hesitate to visit the impacted hospitals.

“Going into the hospital to get the care you need is NOT crossing our strike line,” the union wrote. “In fact, we invite you to come join us on the strike line after you've gotten the care you need."

Renton, Washington-based Providence is a 51-hospital nonprofit health system. It logged a $1.7 billion operating loss across 2022 and has been working in recent months to reduce expenses and reorganize its structure. The organization reported somewhat reduced losses in this year’s first quarter, though some operating issues such as patient discharge roadblocks still remain.