Cascade Behavioral Health employees return to work after more than 3 months of strike for safety reasons

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Employees at Cascade Behavioral Health Hospital returned to work this week after spending more than three months on strike, demanding more safety at work after a chaotic evening over the summer that left 11 injured.

Staff at the 137-bed Tukwila Psychiatric Hospital officially ratified a new three-year contract on Wednesday, in which Cascade management pledged to hire a designated security team, implement more staff-to-patient ratios. security, adding workload protections and increasing wages, among others. things. The deal covers 220 nurses, mental health technicians and Cascade service workers, who this week called the contract a “big win.”

“I’m very proud,” said Meseret Amare, who has worked at Cascade as a mental health technician since 2015. “The story here is that you can fight back with strength in numbers.”

Amare said this week that she has been concerned about patient and staff safety for years, but that the evening of August 1 was a turning point for her.

She and her colleagues say that that night a patient in crisis left her room, stole a key card from a nurse and ran into the hospital, tearing up patients’ medical records and threatening anyone who approached. him. Eleven Cascade staff were injured as they tried to calm the patient, including a 37-year-old mental health technician who left on a stretcher that night.

“I’m not in a position to tell you exactly what happened because there was so much wrestling, but all I can say is… I thought I was going to die”, said the technician, Alazar Yirgu, in an interview at The Times.

Weeks later, Yirgu said he still had difficulty walking and continued to take heavy medication.

“It was the last straw,” Amare said.

Cascade spokeswoman Diana Chinea said this week that the hospital was also “very happy” with the deal and looked forward to welcoming returning employees.

“It has not been an easy process for both sides and we wish to express our gratitude to the Union and its negotiators for working in good faith to resolve the contentious issues,” Chinea wrote in an email. “At the end of the day, we both want the same thing: to provide high-quality care to our patients in a safe environment that fosters hope and healing.”

This week’s resolution comes after three and a half months of growing tensions between workers and management – during which at least 24 workers were sacked for strike action, and the hospital put up a chain-link fence between the facility and the line. picketing.

In a move that added to frustrations in August, Cascade CEO Christopher West pushed back staff complaints in a open letter to the community, saying their union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, had “grossly exaggerated stories of unfavorable working conditions to bolster their contract bargaining goals.”

At that time, the strikers had three demands on the hospital: hire designated security guards, reinstate all those who were fired, and stop retaliation against those on the picket line. In the deal ratified on Wednesday, Cascade agreed to all three.

Under the agreement, the hospital promised to hire three unarmed security technicians, or security guards, for the day shift and two for the night shift, all trained in verbal and physical de-escalation strategies. This is the first time the hospital has called on employees specifically to respond to emergencies, although Cascade said all staff have been trained in de-escalation and other safety protocols.

Hiring designated security, rather than relying on hospital staff to respond to fighting and agitated patients, will make a huge difference, Amare said.

At Cascade, in the event of a disruption, the hospital alerts staff with a “Gray Code”. Since there are no security guards or a designated Code Gray response team, the protocol instructs any staff, including nurses, who can assist in answering the call so help with de-escalation.

“We didn’t have the resources to monitor patients,” Amare said. “We are nurses. We have a little practice, but this training is not always enough.

Under the agreement, the new security technicians will have three to five years of security experience, be able to lift 75 pounds, handle impact and trauma-informed care, demonstrate ” commitment to cultural competence ”and to be trained in verbal and physical fluency. climbing techniques.

The new contract also includes a 15% wage increase over three years and a bonus of $ 5,000.

Sara Moullin, a registered nurse for 11 years at Cascade, said she and her colleagues were in tears when they finally returned to work this week.

“Coming in with all of our workers who really stood up for patient safety… and knowing that we won was a great feeling,” she said.

Moullin was one of the first employees to be laid off after the strike began and is eager to return to her job, she said.

“I missed my patients,” Amare added. “I wanted to see them. And I’m so ready, more than ever.


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