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'We're not machines': Providence employees worried about staffing shortage, call for more investment and support

On the heels of multiple nurses unions sharing concerns about the "unprecedented crisis" in Washington hospitals, local staff are speaking out.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Derek Roybal is the first to admit his employment with Providence Sacred Heart over the past five years have actively included working with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW 21) to negotiate wages, employee support, and other essentials for nurses, technicians and other hospital staff.

But he's also first to admit that those negotiations and conversations have changed dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We all want to do the best we can, but we're not machines," said Roybal, whose voice joined a growing number of local and statewide employees who are worried about a potential collapse of Washington's healthcare system due to overworking concerns.

"I thought that we kind of had it figured out," said Roybal, looking back to the beginning of his time with Providence. "I thought 'We have protocols, they know what they're doing, they're taking care of us.' And I've kind of come to realize, they're winging it [too].' "

In an earlier joint statement issued by the Washington State Nurses Association, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, and UFCW 21, union representatives say hospitals were already understaffed well before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

"All [COVID] did was put a magnification on this and exacerbate it...  People are so burnt out, they'd rather go wait tables... It's way easier of a job," added Roybal. 

Earlier this week, staff at Providence made the tough decision to pause all non-emergency shortages due to the overcrowding issues.

Providence Communication Manager Ariana Lake said the hospital will work with each patient on a case-by-case basis to reschedule and provide necessary care. They encourage patients with a surgery scheduled in the next two weeks to contact the doctor’s office that scheduled the surgery for more information.

This adjustment is directly influenced by the large number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 and significant staffing issues, according to Lake.

Providence issued the following statement in response to an inquiry about staffing shortages: 

“At Providence, we have been expressing concerns about staffing shortages along with every other health care organization in the country. We are currently dealing with the fifth wave of the pandemic, which has placed an incredible strain on both our caregivers and our health system. We encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated to do so.”