Some Bend hospital workers continued to picket against St. Charles Health System on Friday, with no end in sight for a strike of about 140 medical technicians, technologists and therapists.

Hospital administrators have said that “patient care is proceeding as normal,” but reports from nurses tell a different story.

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“It is simply impossible given the current circumstances,” registered nurse Corey Sattler told OPB in a Friday email.

Sattler describes canceled surgeries, and nurses’ concerns about a rushed onboarding process for “temporary workers, whose training, skill levels, and practice are unknowns.”

People dressed in winter gear, all wearing red, stand in a line outside a hospital. They're holding up signs that read "OFHNP Healthcare Workers On Strike Against Unfair Labor Practices," as cars drive past.

Striking medical technical workers and their supporters picket outside St. Charles Bend hospital, March 4, 2021.

Emily Cureton / OPB

Sattler wrote there are replacement surgical and radiology technicians on site, “but they are not trained to the level that our native techs are as to the equipment, policies, best practices, and staff.”

“As the primary advocates for our patients, we are concerned that this is negatively impacting our ability to provide the level of care they, and our community as a whole, deserve,” said Sattler, an Oregon Nurses Association member.

But hospital officials maintain that the disruptions due to the strike are minimal, and that all the replacement workers are qualified.

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“Each person is thoroughly vetted by [an outside] agency and St. Charles to ensure they have the proper qualifications and work experience to competently perform their role,” Vice President of Human Resources Rebecca Berry wrote in a Friday press release.

St. Charles spokesperson Lisa Goodman declined to provide details about the exact number of replacements hired, or which outside agency was contracted.

“The details of our negotiations and our contracts with other businesses are confidential,” Goodman said in an email.

St. Charles administrators report scheduling limited surgical procedures for the first two days of the strike, and moving some patients to the system’s Redmond facility.

“Now that the replacement workforce is in place, the hospital anticipates operating normally as of Saturday,” the hospital’s press release stated.

The health workers on strike are represented by the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals Local 5017, which is an offshoot of the much larger, American Federation of Teachers.

“Right now, it feels like St. Charles is punishing their workers for having a voice, and wanting a union and a job,” OFNHP spokesperson Shane Burley said.

He said the union is calling for the hospital’s negotiators to come back to the bargaining table, but that the health system has declined to move up a planned March 10 bargaining date unless the strike is called off first.

“We offered a comprehensive proposal that would settle this on Tuesday night, and they didn’t respond in kind. [The hospital] only responded to one small piece of it. And they are continuing to say, ‘We’ll talk about the rest at the next bargaining date,’” Burley said.

The medical technicians and respiratory therapists have not secured a first contract since voting to form a union in 2019. Numerous workers interviewed by OPB said they want guaranteed wage formulas and protections against forced overtime, similar to what’s included in an existing union contract for nurses.

After repeatedly expressing disappointment in the workers, St Charles Bend President Aaron Adams hit a softer note in a Friday press release: “I’m looking forward to getting this situation resolved and welcoming our caregivers back. They are missed already.”

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