Barschow: Nurses' struggle is not about money, it's about the future care of Oregon patients
I am a nurse because I care about my patients and about our entire community's health care. That is why we are voting to authorize a strike at Kaiser Permanente: because we need to put our patients first.
As president of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside for 13 years, I know exactly what it means to support our patients. During the past two years, we have seen conditions unlike anything I've ever experienced in my 25-year career. This global pandemic has rocked our care system, and nurses and health care professionals have faced casualties, trauma, and the kind of loss that was unimaginable earlier in our careers. Through all of that we have been on the frontline of saving lives, and they called us "heroes."
At the same time, we weren't given the kind of tools that we needed. The staffing crisis at Kaiser Permanente did not begin with COVID-19, but it certainly became more apparent during it. We are dealing with understaffing in every single department, and this is something we hoped to fix when bargaining our union contract. But while we came in with thoughtful proposals to address staffing needs and to attract and keep qualified staff, Kaiser came in with low offers and, in many cases, no offer at all.
The offers that Kaiser has put on the table raise concerns for our members, who worry that the proposals could accelerate the staffing crisis by making Kaiser appear as a less attractive employer. This is not a good solution to the staffing crisis and instead we should be working together to celebrate and retain our frontline health care workers.
On Sept. 28, we held a rally in front of one of Kaiser's corporate offices, with over 700 people joining us. They included political leaders like Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, other unions, community activists, patients, health care professionals and many people in our community.
We are sticking together with one united voice: we demand a change.
We are in the process of authorizing a strike at Kaiser, and we are doing it for our patients. When health care workers walk a picket line, or speak into a bullhorn, we do it for our patients. When our members are asked what they care most about, patient care is the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 top priorities. It is almost all we think about because we got into this work to save lives.
I became a nurse because I believe in the power of health care, and I love being an essential part of keeping our communities together.
But we have to have the resources to do this. Almost half of Kaiser RNs are saying they are thinking about leaving the profession entirely because of what Kaiser is doing. How does this help our community? How does this save lives?
If Kaiser wants to live up to the mandate they have been given, that means listening to the voices of health care workers and our patients. We know that when health care professionals have a say in the way care is administered, then we improve the health of everyone involved. Kaiser needs to live up to that promise.
This is not just a fight for these workers or these patients, but for the entire health care system. Kaiser is not going to be the only corporate giant trying to cut costs, and if they get their way then a domino effect could happen that ignites a destructive fire across our care system.
But not if we come together and stop it. Another future is possible, but only if we act now, together.
We are not asking Kaiser to put forward better proposals, we are demanding it. And we are demanding it with every health care professional, patient and community member standing next to us. Because it is time to put patients over profits. Because our patients deserve it, and so do we.
Jodi Barschow is a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside and president of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
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