June 18, 2024

A certified nursing assistant at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center explains why more than one thousand frontline healthcare workers are forming a new union there.

I’m one of the people who care for you or your family member when the worst happens: a difficult cancer diagnosis finds you in the Oncology Department at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.

For nearly two decades, I’ve been proud to stand by Medford families in these dark moments and do everything in my power to help with your healing. Our hospital is the heartbeat of our community; my neighbors, children and grandchildren all count on the care they receive there when they need it most. The difference I’ve made for others in their most challenging times has given me purpose, as much as it has given my patients peace.

Now, however, it’s never been harder for me and my colleagues to give our community the quality care everyone deserves. And that’s because our employer, Asante Health System, has been putting profits ahead of patients and the dedicated hospital staff who care for them.

I became a certified nursing assistant because I wanted to make a difference when it mattered most. I used to go home at the end of each shift feeling pride in what I’d done.  Now, I leave emotionally wrecked knowing that Asante is choosing to not give us the resources necessary to take care of our patients the way we want to.

On any given night, CNAs at Asante is tasked with caring for up to 16 patients at once — dangerously poor staffing levels that put patient outcomes at heightened risk and can lead to an increase in sentinel events. It’s not just CNAs who matter to patient care. When Asante doesn’t allow for enough staff to sterilize surgical equipment so our hospital is ready in an emergency, or to keep the hospital clean and patients fed, that care suffers and outcomes worsen.

In my unit, we have been forced to delay life-saving chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients, because we don’t have enough staff to administer the treatment.

It’s unacceptable.

The root of the problem is Asante’s misplaced priorities. They’ve been putting their money, including nearly $50 million in federal COVID bailouts, into executive paychecks and bonuses instead of patient care.”

In 2020 Asante’s CEO Scott Kelly and Rogue Regional’s CEO Mick Zdeblick were paid a combined $1.8 million and handed bonuses of $255,999 and $103,840 respectively while denying the frontline workers risking our lives in their hospital promised raises; leaving us to battle the COVID-19 crisis alone while they paid us wages so low we were forced to choose between buying groceries or paying our bills. While we face housing and food insecurity, Asante is raking in more money from patients than ever, with patient revenue at the hospital increasing by over 50 percent in 2022 compared to 2012.

Unionized nursing home workers in Oregon with zero years of experience make the same pay I make with 17 years of experience at Asante. Our pay is so low that Rogue Regional workers, including me, often work the equivalent of two full-time jobs at Asante to provide for our families. Instead of paying living wages, Asante has a food bank for its own employees because so many of us struggle to survive on the pennies we get.

I work 60 to 70 hours a week to pay my bills, missing out on time I’ll never get back with my grandchildren — missing out on the storytimes, bike rides and daily joys of life with them. It’s
gut-wrenching to have to choose between our families and our paychecks. It’s even worse when our hospital system withholds support and resources our patients need in order to increase their
bottom line.

That’s why more than one thousand CNAs, Dietary Specialists, EVS, Ed Techs and other frontline healthcare workers decided to take matters into our own hands and form a new union at Rogue Regional.

We know that when hospital workers have a say in patient care, care outcomes dramatically improve — and we care too much about our patients not to advocate for better standards for them, and for a new day where Asante puts patient care first.

While Asante wants what’s best for their bottom line, we want what’s best for the Medford community, because Asante Rogue Regional workers are the community. And we’re going to hold these hospital executives accountable to all of us because your care matters.

We are your friends, your family members, your neighbors.

We are the ones holding your hand at your bedside in your worst moments of need. The ones ensuring your ill family member has a nutritious meal. The ones cleaning and sterilizing to stave off life-threatening infections.

What we’re asking for is the ability to do our jobs well, so we can keep you safe. Please stand with us. A better Asante is possible.

Annette Higgins is a CNA2 at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.