Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center nurses and families rally outside of the Hilton Gardens in Medford Thursday morning. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

It's a deal

Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center and its nurses union reached a contract agreement early Friday morning.

Aided by a federal mediator, hospital administrators and negotiators representing nearly 900 Oregon Nurses Association members bargained for 15 hours before reaching an accord shortly after 1 a.m., at the Hilton Garden Inn.

"We feel like the hospital made great movement," said nurses union spokesman David Baca. "Going into mediation, there was a lot of emotion. But we're very pleased with the outcome."

"I think the agreement we reached is a very fair one," said Paul Macuga, Asante chief people officer and a member of Asante's negotiating team. "Asante is very pleased with it, and I think both sides worked extremely hard to get there.

"Ultimately, we reached an agreement that is good for the nurses, good for Asante, and most importantly for the patients we serve."

The roughly 100-page agreement was unanimously endorsed by the eight-member negotiating team for the hospital's registered nurses. The contract will be presented to union members at the Smullin Center on the hospital campus, Baca said, and will be available via livestream and podcast for those not in attendance. Nurses will vote on the pact as early as Monday, with only a simple majority needed to ratify the three-year deal through June 30, 2020.

Baca said every previous proposed contract that has received unanimous endorsement by the negotiating team has been ratified.

"The hospital made great movement on staffing and break language," Baca said.

In addition, Asante offered a 7 percent wage hike over the course of the contract, something negotiators hadn't pushed for, Baca said. The hospital previously had offered 1.5 percent each year of the contract. Now nurse pay will rise 2.5 percent the first two years of the contract and 2 percent the third year.

Macuga said the increased pay should help the hospital recruit nurses.

"Our goal is to pay competitive wages, and that's what we believed we achieved," he said.

In many ways, Baca said, what mattered more than pay was the ability to schedule breaks and meals.

"The units were empowered to utilize break-relief nurses," Baca said. "If a unit feels they need a break-relief nurse, they are now contractually entitled to one."

The hospital has about 30 departments, of which about 70 percent are operational around the clock, utilizing 12-hour shifts, he said.

"Once we have a staffing plan, with a break nurse included, you can cost it out as part of how much the hospital will spend on nursing that day," Baca said.

The hospital also changed its position on how vacation time and medical leave time were awarded. The hospital had wanted to change how vacation and medical leave accrued, but decided to keep the existing policy in place.

What the hospital got in return was a commitment from its registered nurses to attend staff meetings, where policies and procedures are discussed, even on days off.

"They're looking for employee engagement in its line of service," Baca said.

The meetings usually last two hours, once a month.

With the Affordable Care Act tying reimbursements to patient satisfaction and outcome, the nursing staff plays an integral role, he said.

"The hospital is trying to build a culture where everybody is part of the team," Baca said. "We are glad to agree to that."

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter at, on Facebook at

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