A standoff between Oregon's largest hospital group and its nurses' union over COVID-19 protections has gained the attention of Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, an emergency room doctor.
Nurses allege that Providence Health & Services has failed to provide industry-standard COVID-19 protections since May—including sufficient time off to receive vaccinations and an adequate supply of N95 masks.
Providence says that's not true: A hospital system spokesperson says Providence provides paid time off to receive the vaccine and recover from side effects, and provides N95 masks and respirators to nurses in high-risk wards.
Meiran, an elected official, is wading into the fight. (A regular critic of COVID-19 safety measures, she's an emergency room doctor in a different hospital system, Kaiser Permanente.) She will join nurses for a noon rally Friday outside Providence Portland Medical Center in Northeast Portland.
"Nurses are the lifeblood of our health care system," Meieran tells WW via text message. "As an ER doctor, I see them show up, day and night, through fear, uncertainty and grief, to be there for their patients. It's not enough to simply say they are our heroes—we need to show them we have their backs.
"We've heard from Providence nurses about inconsistent access to PPE, limited paid sick time, inadequate testing, and more," she continues. "This kind of response was difficult to accept early in the pandemic; 11 months in, it's inexcusable."
The rally increases scrutiny on Providence. As WW previously reported, the hospital system regularly denies workers' compensation claims from employees claiming they contracted COVID-19 on the job, on a far greater scale than any other company in Oregon. It shut down a wing of Providence Portland Medical Center last month after a COVID-19 outbreak sickened more than 49 people. And on Thursday, The Oregonian reported that Providence board members received early invitations to get the COVID vaccine.
Nurses say Meieran's participation in the rally adds force to their cause.
"We are incredibly grateful our community stands with Oregon's nurses. Having leaders from all walks of life speak up for strong COVID-19 safety standards says volumes about our community's priorities," Oregon Nurses Association president Lynda Pond said in a statement. "Without COVID-19 safety standards, nurses are walking a tightrope without a net. Providence needs to support nurses to prove it cares about caregivers and our community. It's time for Providence to pick up a pen and sign a COVID-19 safety agreement to protect Oregon's nurses, patients and our communities."
Providence denies its protections are inadequate.
"Providence is committed to keeping our nurses safe during this pandemic," says communications director Jean Powell Marks. "The organization has made an extraordinary commitment to secure PPE for our caregivers. From the beginning of the pandemic, our regional lab has ensured testing of our patients and caregivers. We have spent countless hours keeping ONA members and officers informed and updated on how we were responding in this crisis."