Nurses’ union outraged at Astria Regional closure, holding emergency meeting

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YAKIMA, Wash. — With less than a week’s notice, the state nurses’ union says more than a hundred nurses in Yakima are without a job and a community has begun to lose much-needed health services — including the only open heart surgery facility for more than a hundred miles.

Astria Regional Medical Center is scheduled to completely shut down all hospital services by Jan. 22, starting with its emergency department, which is scheduled to close as of 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“This is not a decision that was made lightly, and Astria Health has made every effort to avoid it,” Astria Health spokesperson Dawn O’Polka said in a news release.

Astria Health announced Wednesday it would be closing its doors, saying that funding operations at the hospital was jeopardizing the financial future of its other medical facilities, including Astrial Sunnyside Hospital and Astria Toppenish Hospital. The organization also operates 14 medical clinics and 24 specialty clinics in Yakima County.

The decision to close the hospital came as a shock to many in the community — including the hospital’s own employees.

The Washington State Nurses Association, which represents more than a hundred nurses working at the hospital,  has called the decision and its effects, “shocking”, “devastating”, and even “life-threatening”.

WSNA Executive Director Sally Watkins published a letter Wednesday addressed to Astria Health President & CEO John Gallagher. In the letter, she expressed her shock and disappointment with the decision and the way it was made.

“Your decision smacks of unfairness and disrespect at every level,” Watkins said.

The WSNA filed an emergency motion Friday to ask the judge to reconsider his decision to allow the hospital to shut down, a decision Watkins says was made “under the cloak of secrecy”.

Astria Regional Medical Center filed an emergency motion Jan. 3 asking a federal court judge to allow them to shut down the hospital.

Lawyers for the hospital also asked the judge to seal the motion to prevent its staff from finding out the hospital was shutting down, according to court documents.

While the judge denied the motion to seal Jan. 8 — which made the documents public — he also ruled to allow the hospital closure the same day, meaning no one had the opportunity to try to persuade the judge otherwise.

“You deprived our nurses of the ability to inform the court of the broader impacts of your decision,” Watkins said to Gallagher in her letter.

The public announcement Wednesday also meant hospital employees and union representatives were alerted to the closure at about the same time as media organizations and the general public.

According to the motion to reconsider filed by the WSNA, some nurses were told Friday that it was their last day at work — just two days after the closure became public.

“You have severely hampered nurses’ and other employees’ ability to cope with such a momentous derailment of their careers,” Watkins said in her letter to Gallagher.

In the letter, Watkins also asked hospital management to provide her with at least three dates within the next two weeks when they are available to bargain regarding the effects of the shutdown and the termination of the nurses.

“We expect far more good faith and transparency in those discussions than you showed in the devastating events that have necessitated this bargaining,” Watkins said.

To hear nurses’ concerns, the local unit of the WSNA is holding an emergency local unit meeting from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 401 E. Yakima Ave.

The hearing on the WSNA’s motion to reconsider the closure decision is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in the second-floor courtroom of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Washington, 402 E. Yakima Ave.

“We need all nurses and community members to pack this hearing to demonstrate our outrage and showcase the impact of this decision on our community and our nurses,” the WSNA said in a message to its members.