By David Hilderbrand and Julie Bostrom

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

W e’ve sat directly across the table from St. Charles executives for more than seven months of contract negotiations between hospital administrators and local nurses at St. Charles Bend. We’ve heard a lot of corporate doublespeak from St. Charles executives, and we read even more in St. Charles Chief Operating Officer Iman Simmons’ misleading column “St. Charles Bend continues talks to reach a contract.”

We disagree with Simmons and St. Charles executives on many basic facts — from St. Charles’ fuzzy financial math to what contract negotiations are about — and we think we understand why.

St. Charles executives don’t have a problem talking, they have a problem listening.

Nurses in Bend have been speaking up about staffing and safety issues at St. Charles Bend for years, and St. Charles executives still don’t seem to get the message.

Since 2015, Bend nurses have reported more than 600 unsafe or inadequate staffing incidents at St. Charles Bend, but we haven’t seen significant action from St. Charles executives.

In 2017, the Oregon Health Authority conducted an independent investigation of staffing at St. Charles Bend. The state found hundreds of violations of Oregon’s Hospital Nurse Staffing Law and ordered St. Charles to comply with the law. A year and a half later, hospital executives haven’t fixed the problems.

In 2018, St. Charles Bend was asked by LeapFrog, a prominent hospital safety organization, if it had enough qualified nurses in the hospital. St. Charles administrators “declined to report” any staffing information — the executive equivalent of a shoulder shrug.

St. Charles executives are skilled talkers, but on staffing — the issue that directly affects patients everyday — they remain silent.

We understand why St. Charles corporate executives don’t want to talk about their staffing problems.

It makes them look bad.

It’s hard to justify paying CEOs and COOs high six-figure salaries and handing out executive bonuses when the hospital’s staffing problems keep getting worse.

Let me tell you why nurses are committed to talking about nurse staffing — at the bedside, in contract negotiations and everywhere in between.

Safe staffing saves lives. It’s as simple as that.

In a health care system dominated by expensive treatments and unpronounceable prescription drugs, your nurse is your lifeline. It’s a fact.

Decades of research on hospital staffing has proven having enough nurses available to treat patients is one of the most effective, affordable ways to help patients get healthy and get home safely.

Studies show adding one nurse to a hospital’s team can reduce your chances of dying by up to 16 percent.

Take a moment to think about that. Just one nurse can mean the difference between you leaving the hospital with your family or not leaving at all. For nurses, it’s worth having a real discussion about hospital staffing and patient safety during contract negotiations so we can make the hospital safer for our patients once and for all.

It’s clear St. Charles executives aren’t going to change on their own, and nurses won’t settle for four more years of empty corporate talk. Our patients can’t afford it.

Bend’s nurses are going to keep talking about safe staffing during contract negotiations, and we’re going to keep advocating to make safe staffing practices standard at St. Charles Bend. It’s the best way to care for our patients and to save lives.

We look forward to continuing contract negotiations with St. Charles and correcting some of the misleading claims they’ve made in their guest column and newspaper and radio ads, but for now, we’re focused on nurses’ No. 1 priority — improving staffing to make sure every patient gets home to their families healthy and happy. That’s what matters to nurses and our patients.

Let’s hope all of St. Charles executives are finally ready to stop talking and start listening.

— David Hilderbrand, RN, and Julie Bostrom, RN, are experienced local nurses and leaders on the Oregon Nurses Association’s contract negotiation team at St. Charles Bend.

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