OPINION: Let PRH nurses get unemployment benefits

The pay cuts were the best choice to make, but those affected should receive some of the unemployment benefits as compensation

GUS WATERS, Evergreen columnist

The recent decision by Pullman Regional Hospital to cut staff salaries and working hours is a needed action to keep the hospital in functioning form, but staff members put in financial danger because of this decision should be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Jeff Elbracht, the President of Pullman Regional Hospital’s Board of Commissioners, said that after the governor ordered all elective surgeries to be canceled to stop the spread of COVID-19, the hospital lost over half of its income. The hospital then cut working hours and salaries for their entire staff to prevent massive layoffs of workers. The reduction is a temporary measure that will last 60 days until elective surgeries are an available source of income for the hospital again, assuming no new COVID-19 orders take effect.

The reduction in salaries and hours is a serious blow for the staff in the hospital. Staff salary cuts during the bleak economic picture put people in an already difficult position in a challenge. Many employees might not be able to afford a 25 percent cut to their income and may struggle over this 60 day period.

Despite this challenge, the hospital made the right call by spreading around the negatives of this situation instead of laying off crucial employees. It is better for employees to lose 25 percent of their income than 100 percent of their income.

On top of a decrease in staff salary, many are getting asked to work 25 percent less hours as part of a furlough to decrease labor costs for the hospital. This could be a cause of concern for some, as having staff missing during the COVID-19 pandemic might be dangerous.

Ruth Schubert, the communications director of the Washington State Nurses Association, said that cutting working hours for hospital staff can reduce the effectiveness of a hospital in certain areas, but depending on what departments staff hours are cut it might not matter in regards to an effective COVID-19 response.

While cutting staff hours is a potential threat, it is also easily manageable by cutting hours in departments that are less critical to responding to COVID-19 or ensuring a safe minimum amount of staff working at any given time.

In essence, the staff furloughs and salary cuts do pose a limited risk to patient care and real economic damage to staff, yet they are needed to not create a financial meltdown and massive layoffs for Pullman’s only hospital.

The patient risk is manageable, yet the financial harm for workers whose hours have been substantially reduced isn’t.

That is why staff at Pullman Regional Hospital should be eligible for unemployment benefits.

According to the website for the Employment Security Department of Washington State, workers whose hours have been reduced in light of COVID-19 are eligible for benefits until May 4, the projected end date of the stay at home order. Cases for reduced hours like this are taken on a case by case basis.

Employees at Pullman Regional Hospital not only have a case to deserve benefits as the most necessary workforce in Pullman, they deserve unemployment benefits for the entire 60 day period of reduction, not just until May 4.

The staff deserve help from Washington because they have done so much to help the state. There is an opportunity to give back to those who have given.

There is no reason why workers at Pullman Regional Hospital don’t deserve unemployment benefits.