St. Charles Health System and Oregon Nurses Association leaders announced Friday that the two organizations have reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract for nurses at the Bend hospital.

The bargaining unit members will vote on the contract in coming weeks, the two organizations said in a joint statement.

 “This offer is fully recommended by the ONA bargaining team,” said Alison Hamway, labor representative for the ONA in Bend. “We believe it is a fair contract that does much to support our nurses and enhance patient care in Bend.”

"Negotiations began May 23 and progressed in a professional and respectful manner over the past several months," the news release said; the nurses had worked past contract expiration under its terms.

“We had many challenging issues to work through and I’m so pleased that we were able to come to an agreement that both sides feel comfortable recommending for approval,” said Rebecca Morgan, director of human resources for St. Charles Health System. “I would truly like to thank everyone involved for the time and energy they put into this process.”

ONA representatives echoed the sentiment and praised all involved for their commitment to patient care. 

“I am so proud of the nurses who participated in this process,” said Lynda Coats-Sellers, a registered nurse and ONA negotiating team member. “Patient care and the health of our community has always been our first priority and this contract ensures that the nurses of St. Charles will have the resources and support necessary to continue to provide excellent care to the people of Central Oregon.”

Some of the highlights of the contract agreement include 2 percent general wage increases each year and changes in the health plan that gives St. Charles caregivers a choice between a caregiver-directed plan with a health savings account and a traditional PPO plan.

Both health plan options include a voluntary wellness program that provides incentives for caregivers and their families to improve their health.

In addition, the two sides agreed on language in the contract that they said "will result in more nursing care at the patient bedside and an overall improvement in patient care and safety."

Charge nurses will maintain their current positions and will be focused on clinical development and expertise to help mentor and enhance the skills of other nurses on their unit, the organizations said. They will provide direct patient care, including patient assessments, and will help develop practice policies and procedures.

St. Charles also plans to hire clinical supervisors for each unit "to provide leadership and improve communication between the units and hospital management," the joint announcement said.

“We feel that this collaborative agreement will enhance patient care in every department of the Bend hospital and provide nurses with the support they need at the bedside,” said Tim Eixenberger, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Bend and a member of the bargaining team for St. Charles.

 The agreement still leaves St. Charles embroiled in troublesome efforts to reach a first contract with about 600 service workers represented by the Service Employees International Union.

After months of talks failed to reach a deal, and claims in both directions of unfair labor practices, SEIU leaders recently agreed to a new representation vote, nearly two years after the union was voted in by a narrow margin.

St. Charles spokeswoman Lisa Goodman told NewsChannel 21 that vote has been set for Nov. 1.