Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) reports that a newly ratified nurse union contract at Tuality Community Hospital breaks new ground: It’s the first time an Oregon hospital has committed to use dedicated “break relief” nurses to give other nurses their rest and meal breaks without leaving patients under-attended.
The new program replaces a “buddy system” method of giving breaks in which a nurse’s patients are added to another nurse’s load for the duration of the break. In the buddy system, patients are down one nurse when nurses take their legally-mandated meal and rest breaks. By contrast, Tuality’s new system maintains the same level of patient care throughout a shift.
ONA has been campaigning against the buddy system at hospitals through- out Oregon, arguing that assigning a nurse to care for twice as many patients can increase the risk of patient infections and missed care, and violate hospital staffing plans. At St. Charles Hospital in Bend, ONA nurses filed a staffing complaint based on buddy system abuses in 2017 that resulted in an investigation by the Oregon Health Authority — and a state mandate that the hospital change its staffing plans.
The new union contract, ratified overwhelmingly in a Feb. 13 vote, covers about 200 nurses at the hospital Tuality Community Hospital, a nonprofit 167-bed facility in Hillsboro. The contract also raises wages 4.5 percent over the life of the agreement, and expands staff training. It runs through March 31, 2020. Nurses’ previous contract with Tuality expired Dec. 31, 2017.