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Washington nurses call for higher wages to address hospital staffing shortages

An informational picket outside Seattle Children's hospital was the latest in a number of efforts by Washington State Nurses Association members.

SEATTLE — Nurses held an informational picket and rally Tuesday to call attention to a number of concerns surrounding staffing, compensation and turnover.

"I am forever hopeful we'll be able to reach a good agreement, a good compromise with the hospital that will ultimately retain nurses, here at Seattle Children's," charge nurse Kara Yates said. "Hopefully with the turnout today it will be enough pressure on the hospital to do the right thing and staff the hospital safely."

Specifically, the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) noted a high nurse vacancy rate, a need for pay raises and the impacts of rising inflation. 

"Where's the public outcry? We want to challenge the public to come out and say, this is not OK," said Karyn Hanken, who said she's been nursing for 28 years and that Tuesday's demonstrations were the culmination of years of concerns.

WSNA said most, if not all of the hospitals it represents are facing staffing shortages. A recent report from the Washington State Hospital Association raising alarms about hospital budgets declared a 200% rise in temporary labor costs statewide. 

Many staff nurses said they understand why colleagues in the profession choose travel nursing and appreciate their work, but don't believe they should have to sacrifice a full-time job with ongoing training and continuity to make the same wages. Travel nurses are often compensated at a higher hourly rate than permanent nurses. 

"I'm partially like great, good for you, go make that money so you can afford to buy a home someday, but at the same time, we've had nurses on our unit who have worked with us, left to become travelers and come back as travelers on our unit," Yates said. "I'm emotionally torn about it because we need them, I'm glad they're there to help but I wish the hospital did something so we didn't need them."

In addition to talks with Seattle Children's Hospital and two other healthcare facilities currently, WSNA said it has 12 more upcoming negotiations during 2022. SEIU 1199NW, a union that represents workers like registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, pharmacists, certified nursing aides, housekeeping and dietary staff statewide is also currently in talks and has raised many similar issues.

A spokesperson for Seattle Children's Hospital released a statement Wednesday in response to those claims, saying the hospital "deeply values and supports" staff and is committed to being a "leader in compensation in the Seattle/Tacoma market." 

The hospital said it is currently experiencing a staffing shortage, and while leaders would prefer to fill vacancies, they have had to bring on additional support staff to "ensure our patients continue to receive the highest level of care."

"While we cannot share the details of ongoing negotiations, we are diligently working to make progress and are committed to working collaboratively with the WSNA in order to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible," a spokesperson said. "As negotiations continue, we all agree that putting patients first is our highest priority.” 


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