PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Hospital workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington picketed outside of the Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas on Friday afternoon.

The protest is in response to the regional staffing crisis that the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals union says is caused by Kaiser Permanente’s long-term issues with recruiting qualified employees.

“Nobody is going to stay in a building that’s on fire. So, you have to improve the working conditions in the building in order to get people to stay at their jobs,” said Nicole Brun-Cottan, vice chair of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Hospital workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington picketed outside of the Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas on Jan. 13, 2023. (KOIN)

With hospitals still at or near capacity and climbing infections disease rates following a healthcare state of emergency, nurses took to the picket line.

“We are in a worldwide healthcare worker shortage. It is a desperate moment, and our community cannot take one more minute of not having the staff that we need. Whatever is necessary to recruit staff, to keep staff, get them here. We need them now,” said Joshua Holt, registered nurse chair of OFNHP.

Holt said the state of emergency Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued only added strain to an already exhausted system. He said it allowed hospitals to push past staffing limits.

OFNHP is calling on Kaiser to increase staffing levels by at least 15%, which they say will only bring them back into compliance with union contract standards.

Kaiser Permanente sent KOIN 6 News a statement in response to Friday’s protest. In the statement, the nonprofit healthcare provider said that it is working to resolve the staffing issues, which are stressed by a spike in respiratory illnesses.

“We are incredibly grateful for our nurses and frontline workforce and appreciate the challenges they have experienced over the unprecedented last three years,” Kaiser stated. “Across the state, hospitals are seeing a significantly increased demand for care triggered in part by a combined surge of COVID, influenza and RSV, which is putting added strain on hospital resources.”

President of the Oregon Nurses Association Tamie Cline voiced her support for OFNHP on social media ahead of Friday’s protest. Cline also invited OFNHP members to join ONA’s “Protect Providence Nurses” rally, a separate staffing crisis and accountability protest planned for Jan. 20 at Providence’s Oregon Headquarters in Portland.

“This is a painful and challenging time for everyone in health care, I know you and your colleagues are preparing to take action at Kaiser Sunnyside on January 13th,” she said. “ONA will be with you in spirit and many of us will join you in person while you gather together to draw attention to critically low staffing levels, which cause chaos for you, your patients and our communities.”

Brun-Cottan said OFNHP is working with ONA and SEIU to put forth staffing legislation, which could guarantee minimum safety standards in hospitals and provide enforcement mechanisms to ensure healthcare workers have the staff needed to care for patients.

Hospital workers in Oregon and Southwest Washington picketed outside of the Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas on Jan. 13, 2023. (KOIN)

The legislation is still in the early stages, but the message from healthcare workers Friday was loud and clear.

The union is demanding to bargain with Kaiser leadership over the current conditions and said they expect the organization to present a better plan.

Leading up to a possible agreement, Kaiser stated that it has hired temporary employees to fill shifts and meet the needs of its patients. The nonprofit said that it is also working with labor partners and local government and health care officials to “strengthen” its training abilities as a method of growing its workforce.

“Our nurses play a vital role in helping us meet our patients’ care needs and we value their voices and appreciate their concerns,” Kaiser said. “We’re working to increase our staffing and have made good progress. For example, we have streamlined and accelerated our hiring process, and for the seventh month in a row we’ve had a net increase in inpatient, ED and Ambulatory Surgery Center RN hires – our most positive trend in more than two years.”