PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Nurses in Oregon and Southwest Washington are set to picket outside Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas on Jan. 13 to protest the ongoing staffing crisis that employees say have caused hazardous working conditions for hospital employees.

Joshua Holt, a union representative with the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (AFT Local 5017), said that the staffing crisis is partly due to Kaiser Permanente’s long-term problems with recruiting qualified employees.

“As hospital admissions rise, healthcare workers are so understaffed that we can’t provide the care our community needs,” Holt said. “The staffing crisis is the result of Kaiser’s decisions and pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is entirely up to them to fix this problem and ensure safe staffing levels.” 

A recent statewide survey of nurses conducted by the Oregon Nurses Association concluded that Oregon’s ongoing health care crisis is a result of unsafe staffing levels. A “Healthcare Staffing Shortage Task Force Report” completed by the American Federation of Teachers’ Healthcare Division in 2022 showed similar results.

FILE – A nurse talks to a patient in the emergency room at Salem Hospital in Salem, Ore., on Aug. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

In December of 2022, then Governor Kate Brown issued a State of Emergency in response to the increased number of COVID-19 cases and other respiratory infections in Oregon. The executive order allocated $25 million to hospitals experiencing staffing crises, which allowed them to draw on a pool of medical volunteer nurses and doctors to help respond to the surge of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the flu, and COVID-19.

Brown’s intention with the plan was to allow hospitals more flexibility to ensure adequate staffing levels. However, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals rallied against Brown’s decision, saying that it exacerbated the staffing crisis.

“[Brown’s executive order] put further strain on healthcare workers across the state by giving hospitals the ability to push past staffing limits,” the union said. “This only accelerated an already critical staffing crisis, and while our hospitals are flooded with patients this is only pushing our workers to the breaking point.”

The Jan. 13 protest, the union said, is the start of a new campaign that will potentially pressure Kaiser Permanente into increasing staffing levels by a minimum of 15%. The union is also demanding a labor agreement with Kaiser leadership that outlines a plan to achieve the desired hiring levels. The picketing is set to take place from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“[A 15% increase] is necessary to simply meet the standards set forth in our union contract,” the union said. “This picket will occur directly before a weekend that has, over the past two years, proven to be a COVID transmission peak.”