Confluence Health is one of Wenatchee’s largest employers and was once known as a great place for nurses to work. There is a sense of community, camaraderie and good relationships with management.
Central Campus, formerly known as Central Washington Hospital, is a beautiful, modern building in the Wenatchee Valley. Nurses have been working there for 20, 30 and 40 years, and WSNA has been representing nurses there for 50 years.
Confluence Health Central is fully staffed with more than 500 nurses. Today, there are about 350.
Like many health systems, the pandemic has left lasting scars. Nurses are divided over politics and whether to get vaccinated. Many nurses left. Significant changes in top management followed – a new CEO was appointed and the responsibilities of the chief financial officer (CFO) were expanded to focus on financial incentives. The chief financial officer now oversees the department formerly held by the chief nursing officer.
Gone are the days when upper management knew everyone and went around meeting patients and staff. Nurses call it the era of corporate health care. Nurses said decisions were made top-down without their input, including the implementation of staffing plans.
Some departments, such as obstetrics and delivery units, are staffed to nationally recommended nurse-to-patient ratios. However, other departments, such as surgery, are seeing seven to nine patients a night instead of the recommended four to five. This fall, one nurse even reported working the night shift on a 12-patient internal medicine/oncology unit.
In February, nurses gave the new chief executive, Dr. Andrew Jones, a jar of 5,000 jelly beans every time they missed a break. They also sent Dr. Jones a 15-page letter with evidence supporting the financial benefits of increased nurse staffing and documenting studies showing that higher caseloads are associated with higher patient injuries and deaths.
The nurses invite Dr. Jones to a staffing meeting. But he never came.
Nurses say if hospitals are staffed safely, more nurses will come, the results will be better and the hospital will benefit.
Nurses are tired of this division. They hope to spend their energy mentoring young nurses and rebuilding their beloved pre-COVID community.
In September, WSNA’s negotiating department at Confluence Health Central organized a grand celebration at Sunrise Ranch to celebrate WSNA’s 50th anniversary at the hospital. They had music, face painting, delicious food, and table decorations with fun nursing humor.
These nurses want the public to know that unions are more than just contracts. It’s about community and making health care better.
Located in north-central Washington, Wenatchee has a large-town feel, with a population of 35,433 people, 64.5% of whom are white, according to the 2022 census. The Wenatchee Valley’s population base exceeds 250,000.
“Wenatchee” is derived from “Wenatchi,” aboriginal meaning “river flowing from the canyon” or “rainbow robe.” The Wenatchee are part of the larger Native American group known as the Interior Salish.
More than a dozen nurses interviewed for this article said they love the area, the nearby towns of Leavenworth and Chelan, the local festivals and the atmosphere. They say they will try to stay here.
As they will tell you, nurses are the agents of change. They know what changes will impact patient care because they have patient expertise.
They are counting on recovery nurses to collaborate and focus on caring for the communities they serve.
In 2013, Confluence Health merged Central Washington Hospital and Wenatchee Valley Hospital (now Confluence Health’s Mares campus). Nurses from Mares organized an event with WSNA in July 2023.