Nurses with SEIU Healthcare 1199NW are calling for the removal of five top administrators involved with oversight at Western State Hospital, including the chief nursing officer and an assistant secretary with the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

A majority of nurses at Western State voted no confidence in the facility’s leadership, according to a news release from the union, which has about 400 members who are nurses and nurse supervisors at the hospital.

The nurses also are calling for the removal of Western State’s assistant chief nursing officer, its chief scheduler and an infection control specialist.

Kenia Escobar, a spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, said a “supermajority” of its Western State nurses took part in the vote and that it was “near unanimous,” but she declined to share more details.

Western State, an 850-bed psychiatric hospital in Lakewood with about 2,700 workers, has struggled for years with staffing and safety concerns and the pandemic has further strained the relationship between those workers and their leadership.

In 2018, the hospital lost $53 million in annual federal funding after inspectors found problems with the hospital’s quality assessment and improvement program and its nursing services, among other issues.

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Staffers in 2019 reported more than 463 assault-related injuries at the facility. Some patients remain housed in out-of-date buildings.

Health risks add new safety worries for staffers.

During the pandemic, nurses say they have gone without needed personal protective equipment and that managers have ignored concerns voiced about safety, the nurses said in a news release.

Marivic Dellinger, a nurse supervisor at Western State, said managers were not responsive enough to employee concerns and blamed them for COVID-19 problems at the facility.

“… Because of their slow reaction my coworkers have gotten sick. A patient has died, and yet we’ve had to fight for the slightest change that will make our workplace safe during COVID-19,” Dellinger said in the SEIU1199NW news release. “Our patients need us and this vote is what we feel we have to do to take care of them.”

The hospital leadership has taken some steps to respond to concerns voiced earlier in the outbreak. It created a dedicated COVID-19 ward and let staffers wear their own masks.

At Western State Hospital, 29 employees and six patients have been infected with COVID-19, according to data posted to the DSHS website. Of those cases, 28 employees have recovered from their infections, the website says. Five patients have recovered; one person died.

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Cheryl Strange, the secretary of DSHS, said the agency was disappointed in the union’s action and said the department had been working in good faith to address concerns.

“There is always much work to do in a hospital this large and we will continue our efforts to restore the faith of the membership,” Strange said in an emailed statement. “The COVID-19 response has put tremendous stress on many and we are very proud of the staff who have shown up and done the hard work to mitigate the impact of the virus. We are also proud of the work our leadership has done during this unprecedented time for all of us.”

 

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Material from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.