Nurses at PeaceHealth’s Sacred Heart Home Care Services have voted to authorize a strike, citing low wages and staffing strains.
PeaceHealth operates two hospice locations in Oregon, along with six others in Alaska and Washington state.
Roughly 90 of its home health and hospice registered nurses represented by the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) recently voted in favor of strike, though ultimately decided to postpone that action as wage negotiations continue.
Clinicians have struggled with larger patient caseloads and tougher financial burdens that impact their ability to provide quality care, according to Jo Turner, hospice nurse at PeaceHealth. She is also a member of ONA’s executive committee at the health system.
”For many years, the nurses at Sacred Heart Home Care Services were there to pick up the slack,” Turner said in an ONA announcement. “We’ve taken on patients not only that no other home care company will take, but [also] cannot take because they do not have the nurses that have the expertise to take these patients that are coming out of the hospital. But as PeaceHealth continues to low-ball us and leave us without a contract, we’re losing the nurses we need to care for our most vulnerable community members.”
PeaceHealth offers hospice, palliative, pediatric, primary and immediate and urgent care, along with behavioral health and home-based services, among others. The nonprofit health care system operates medical centers, critical access hospitals and hospice facilities in Alaska, Oregon and Washington.
Wage negotiations in Oregon have been in the works for nearly a year since nursing contracts expired in April 2023. Another round of negotiation is anticipated early this month.
Though the clinicians are ready to strike, they are waiting to see how the bargaining process unfolds, hoping it yields higher pay, according to Turner.
Hospice and home health clinicians have been required to do more with less for several years during ongoing staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic and lower wage thresholds than their counterparts in other care settings, Turner indicated.
In August, PeaceHealth reached an agreement with hospital nurses that raised wages 8%. Nurses with three years of experience now receive an hourly wage of $47.74. This is a rise from the 4.75% increase the health system most recently offered home health and hospice nurses, or an hourly wage of $43.31.
“We’re not calling for a strike because we still have another negotiation scheduled for January 5,” Turner told local news. “We are hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst — and that’s what we need to do. So, we’re giving PeaceHealth another chance to come to that table with a fair and decent contract. Because deep in our hearts, we know that our patients come first. But if PeaceHealth leaves us no other option than to strike, then that’s something we must do.”
State law in Oregon would require a 10-day notice prior to a nursing strike. To date, no notice has been made.
Without a wage hike, clinical staff members may ultimately decide to leave, according to Paulette Farrell, hospice nurse at PeaceHealth. The health system’s most recent wage offerings for nurses would result in an income loss versus gain, leaving clinicians with difficult financial decisions tied to retention, Farrell stated.
“Nurses like me who’ve been around for a while — they’re gonna leave,” Farrell in local news reports. “They’re gonna leave to go work for the hospital where they can make more money, or the other hospital in town where they can make more money.”