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Rest Breaks Are One Big Issue In Negotiations Between Tacoma General Nurses And MultiCare

MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital

Nurses at Tacoma General Hospital held an informational picket on Monday before heading back to the bargaining table with MultiCare this week. The union, the Washington State Nurses Association, said one of its big issues is ensuring adequate care for patients while nurses take rest breaks.

The WSNA, which represents more than 700 registered nurses at Tacoma General, took Multicare to court in 2010 over how the not-for-profit addresses rest breaks. The nurses association said the buddy system the hospital has been using forces one nurse to double up on patients while the other takes a break.

Terry Surratt, a registered nurse at the hospital who's part of the union’s bargaining committee, said nurses aren’t comfortable handing over their patients to a "break buddy."

"Sometimes we feel that we aren’t able to provide the quality of care that we want to provide for our patients if we do that," Surratt said. 

In 2013, the two sides settled the case, but the union filed a grievance saying MultiCare wasn’t abiding by the settlement and an arbitrator took the nurses’ side. MultiCare is challenging that decision.

In a statement, MultiCare said the break buddy system is used at hospitals across the country. But the organization acknowledged there have been strains because of a national nursing shortage that's made it hard to fill open positions. MultiCare said it aims to make improvements so that nurses can take the breaks they need.