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Originally published March 8, 2013 at 7:39 PM | Page modified March 8, 2013 at 7:39 PM

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Olympia hospital workers plan to strike Monday over health costs

Workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia plan to strike Monday over higher out-of-pocket costs for health insurance; hospital officials say employees need to help curb the rising costs of health care.

Seattle Times health reporter

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If more than 500 service workers and others at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia go on strike Monday morning as planned, it will be the largest health-care strike since 2004, union officials said.

The licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, health-unit coordinators, and dietary and housekeeping staff who belong to the union contend that Providence has shifted too many health-care costs on to workers, most of whom make relatively low wages.

The union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, calls the health plans “catastrophic” — a characterization Providence disputes.

Providence, in a statement, said the hospital will remain fully staffed and the strike, which is planned to last only through the week, won’t affect patient care.

Its latest contract offer, Providence said, is “very competitive,” and includes a wage increase, health-plan options and a retirement plan. Because of declining health-care reimbursement, Providence said earlier, it is asking employees to share “in the rising cost of health benefits and to participate in new health-plan options that provide incentives for wellness and careful use of health-care resources.”

If the health-care dispute is not resolved, the union says, 150 registered nurses, social workers and nursing assistants from Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice will join the strike Wednesday.

Providence implemented the new health plans Jan. 1, and the workers have rallied many local politicians and others to their side. “The major health-care provider in Thurston County is going in the wrong direction for our community,” said Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela at a community forum last month.

The plans increase deductibles for both single and family coverage, but decrease the out-of-pocket maximum for families.

Providence says the plans actually can cut employee costs and be a win-win for all. “As part of a total economic package, we are asking employees to help curb the rising costs of health care by moving to a new health-benefit plan that promotes wellness and careful use of health-care resources,” Providence said in a statement late last year.

Carol M. Ostrom: costrom@seattletimes.com, 206-464-2249, or at Twitter @costrom

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