Employees give input in design of new unit at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center

Unionized hospital staff at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center had a role in designing a new $4 million unit that provides better patient care while offering safer working conditions and lower maintenance costs.

Employee input is written into the union workforce's collective bargaining agreement - an historic five-year national contract with Kaiser Permanente and 25 locals from eight international unions that represent hospital workers in all parts of the country.

Members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017 and Service Employees Local 49 were part of the design team for "Three South," a new 20-bed inpatient unit located on the third floor of the Medical Center's south wing in Clackamas. The unit, which will care for the hospital's sickest patients, opened Feb. 3.

With the aging of the population, Kaiser Permanente is anticipating increases in diabetes and kidney problems. The new unit is especially designed to care for patients with those ailments. Registered Nurse Nancy Jones said the new unit represents a major upgrade in patient care and comfort, and employee safety and involvement.

Lead Housekeeper Cheryl Meaney said that under the auspices of the Labor-Management Partnership, employee representatives got to meet with the architect and designers more than 18 months ago to help plan the unit.

"For instance, we suggested getting a floor that's made from more expensive rubber. Not only is it easier on the feet, but because it needs only to be mopped and not waxed, we'll save time on maintenance. In the long run, it's going to be cheaper," Meaney said.

Jones said that as a nurse for 30 years, "This is the best-designed unit I've seen. It shows what can happen when you ask the people who work in an area how it should be designed."

Among the new unit's key features are:

* All rooms are private, with their own bathroom and shower, built-in cabinets, cushioned window seat, and a bulletin board where patients can tack up get-well cards.

* Two rooms meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for wheelchair accessibility.

* Anticipating electronic inpatient medical records in the future, there is space designed for computers.

* One room is a "negative-pressure" room with an isolation anteroom for supplies. The room can be used to safely care for patients with diseases, such as tuberculosis, that can be spread through the air.

* Another room is specially shielded to safely accommodate thyroid cancer patients who are undergoing therapy with low-level radioactive isotopes.

* By eliminating two outside corridors, a wider central hallway has been created.

* A new approach to food service. Nurses have been freed from microwaving and delivering patient meals. Instead, a diet aide will heat the food in a modern convection oven and then deliver the meal. Each aide has been trained to record food and calorie intake.

The south wing was added to Kaiser Sunnyside in 1984 in anticipation of more hospital beds being needed right away. But demand for hospital beds fell due to a greater reliance on outpatient surgeries and shorter lengths of stay, so it has been used for physician offices.

Kaiser Permanente is the largest unionized health care provider in the United States with some 62,000 union workers.

February 21, 2003 issue

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