Nurses at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma will receive $5 million in back pay after CHI Franciscan Health agreed to a settlement regarding meal and rest breaks, according to an announcement Tuesday from the Washington State Nurses Association.
The hospital will create a “block break relief” system, which ensures nurses have uninterrupted breaks, and add 26 nurses to care for patients while other nurses take their breaks, according to a news release from the association. The WSNA filed the lawsuit in May 2015.
In an emailed statement, Cary Evans, Franciscan’s vice president for marketing and communications, said the medical center is pleased to reach a settlement with the state nurses association.
“This settlement prioritizes patient safety while also providing a restructured process that helps ensure nurses will take appropriate rest and meal breaks,” Evans’ statement reads.
The original complaint filed in Pierce County Superior Court says nurses are prohibited from leaving patient assignments without first assigning those duties to another nurse. The WSNA’s complaint to the court said the hospital had failed to provide paid rest and meal breaks since 2012.
Franciscan agreed to establish the block break system no later than April 1, 2018. The relief nurses will be placed in 15 units in the hospital, including the emergency room, critical care and medical-surgical units.
Nurse breaks are to be 15 continuous minutes without work-related responsibilities. The news release states the hospital’s former policy counted eating a snack or having a short personal conversation with a coworker as a partial break.
In addition to the back pay, nurses who miss uninterrupted rest breaks will be paid for their time starting June 1, 2017.
Christine Himmelsbach, assistant executive director of labor at WSNA, said in a statement that nurses often have to work 12-hour shifts without a break.
“The hiring of additional break relief nurses may be the most critical provision of this settlement,” Himmelsbach said in the statement. “The primary reason nurses are unable to take their meal and rest breaks is inadequate staffing, which puts extraordinary demands on the individual nurse.”
Nurses at Tacoma General Hospital, owned by MultiCare Health System, have threatened a strike advisory vote next week over staffing levels that they say force nurses there to miss breaks.