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Tacoma General nurses plan weeklong boycott of extra shifts

By Kate Martin News Tribune (Tacoma)

Nurses at Tacoma General Hospital are refusing to take extra shifts or voluntary overtime to protest hospital work practices.

The extra-shift boycott is scheduled for Nov. 10-17, according to a news release from the Washington State Nurses Association.

“We hope turning down voluntary overtime and extra shifts will demonstrate to management in a very concrete way that the nurses are being stretched too thin,” said registered nurse Renata Bowlden, a Washington State Nurses Association bargaining team member in Monday’s news release.

Nurses have said the hospital frequently calls nurses to come in for extra shifts. The extra work leads to burnout and nurse turnover, Bowlden said in an interview this summer.

The union has been bargaining with MultiCare Health System, Tacoma General’s owner, for nearly a year.

One issue in contention is the hospital’s “break buddy” system, which allows a nurse to take two 15-minute breaks per shift while another nurse watches over both of their patients. An arbitrator ordered the practice should be discontinued. MultiCare petitioned a federal court to have the decision overturned.

Instead, the nurses say the hospital should hire a dedicated nurse to cover breaks.

But it would cost $13 million to hire 120 nurses to cover breaks at the hospital, wrote Linda Dean and Anita Wolfe, chief nurse executive for cardiovascular services for MultiCare Health System, and chief nurse executive for MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital respectively. They co-authored an op-ed in The News Tribune in March.

“The break buddy system is the most flexible, efficient and cost-effective solution,” Dean and Wolfe wrote.

They wrote that turnover paired with a nationwide nurses shortage has caused short-staffing at Tacoma General.

MultiCare CEO Bill Robertson said in July that the break-buddy system is the most flexible and widely used in health care.

The union and MultiCare are entering another round of federal mediation sessions starting Tuesday, Nov. 8. The nurses also seek better wages and benefits.

The union notified MultiCare officials Oct. 30 their members planned to turn down extra shifts, the news release states, to give managers time to plan alternatives for patient care.

MultiCare officials did not return calls seeking comment.

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