The Washington State Nursing Shortage and the “Invisible” Hospital Workforce

Eleanor Clagett
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My given topic was Latino employment in the service industry in Washington State. Through contacts my professor has with organizers for Service Employees International Union, I learned about the unionization efforts of hospital workers at Yakima Regional Medical Center, and this led me to focus on the experiences of Latinos working in hospitals and the health care industry. I learned that 30 percent of the employees working at Yakima Regional are Latino, and that they are mostly concentrated in the more traditional forms of service labor in the hospital (custodial, food service, housekeeping, etc.) as opposed to health care professions. However, the main focus of attention on hospital employment right now is the nursing shortage currently facing Washington State. My report asks, then, how are Latino workers affected by the nursing shortage? More importantly, how do the factors causing a nursing shortage affect Latino workers, and what options do Latinos have to respond to these factors?

Methods:

I used the internet and the databases in Whitman College’s Penrose Library to gather data and scholarly articles. I also conducted two interviews: one with a technician at St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, and one with a former Certified Nurse’s Assistant for Yakima Regional Medical Center, who is now that hospital’s representative to the Service Employees International Union, Local 1199.

Findings:

The nursing shortage in Washington is being caused by nurses’ dissatisfaction with the way that hospitals are industrializing and pushing for streamlining and cost efficiency. The poor work environment caused by this affects all employees of the hospital, especially Latinos, who I found to be concentrated in the lower level occupations of the hospital.

Recommendations:

Washington is currently faced with two complementary problems: we lack nurses, and Latinos are underrepresented in professional health care occupations. By increasing accessibility of education for Latinos, through academic programs or union involvement, more Latinos could pursue careers in nursing and other professional medical occupations, pointing us on the way to solutions to both problems.

Community Partner:

The interviews I did were arranged for me by my two partners in the community, Andrea Gass, of St. Mary Medical Center, Walla Walla, and Jenny Reed- Heaton, of Service Employees International Union. Local 1199.

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