Letter to the editor: The original mission of the Sisters of Providence has indeed been compromised


It was very difficult for me to read through the commentary of Julie McDonald in the Tuesday, April 2, edition of The Chronicle. McDonald recapped her experience at the Providence Centralia Hospital emergency room (ER) and that of her good friends, the Brumsickles.

When I first began to read the commentary, my feathers got ruffled due to the fact that I worked as a registered nurse (RN) at Providence Centralia for almost 45 years, retiring in March 2023. Twenty-two of those years were in the ER, some of it as the nurse manager, so I have always been somewhat protective of its reputation. I left the ER permanently in 2000 due to my inability to accept what I considered unacceptable care of the patient load. When I began my nursing career in 1978, the ER was a four-bed unit. We were not staffed with a physician from midnight to noon weekdays, and yet we provided swift and excellent care.

I want to emphasize that there are some highly skilled RNs working in the ER at Providence Centralia. The problem is there is not enough of them. I know from past experience (in the last four to five years) a schedule would be posted that included more than 50 holes or unfilled shifts. 

From conversations with the current staff, there are still multiple shifts that continue to work short staffed. The turnover rate for the staff in the ER is very high due to work overload, poor support from administration, unsafe working conditions (staff being assaulted is common in the ER) and high stress levels with poor resources available. The very capable staff at the Providence Centralia ER could provide timely care if there were enough of them and beds were not occupied for days by mental health holds and boarding patients (patients that need admitted) until there is an inpatient bed or transfer bed available. 

It’s difficult to bring patients from the lobby back to the department when there are no beds or space available. 

With only one physician on duty on night shift and 30 to 50 patients being treated or waiting at any given time, the backload snowballs. Patients being seen in a more timely manner would significantly improve by an additional physician on duty. Providence Centralia also desperately needs an urgent care clinic to take the load off the ER. Cindy Sidley also was quoted saying, “some of the challenges that we have is a lot of folks come into the emergency room that might be better served at a clinic locally.” Obviously, Sidley has not attempted to get into a local clinic, (most run by Providence Health Service) and being told there are no appointments available in a timely manner or they are not taking new patients.

I actually laughed out loud when I read Sidley’s comment that read, “We’ve worked really, really, diligently to make sure our whole hospital, including the emergency room, is staffed based upon the volume of patients that come in throughout the day.”

You can talk to almost any RN at the hospital and hear a story about how difficult it is to “onboard” at Providence Centralia. I have heard countless stories about nurses applying for a position at Centralia and never hearing a response from the human resources department or being contacted after a significant delay, which resulted in them accepting a position at a different hospital. 

Another issue Providence Centralia has is retention of RNs, especially the newer graduates. This has been an issue for the past several years as the base pay for a RN in Centralia with up to nine years of experience is considerably lower than the hospitals in Longview and Vancouver. It is not uncommon for these nurses to drive the extra miles for wages that pay $6 to $7 more per hour. This is not news to the administration. As a union representative for Centralia for 15 years, this was a contention that we faced at every contract negotiation. As negotiators, we were told Providence didn’t care what St. John’s in Longview paid. They would never match them. Hence, nurses don’t stay where they are not appreciated for the work they provide.

In closing, I would echo Joanne Schwartz response to McDonald’s editorial: “The original mission of the Sisters of Providence has been totally compromised.”

I, along with Schwartz, “feel sorry for the staff trying to do their best. They are as much a victim as the patients.”


Diane Stedham-Jewell