Behind the movement: How the new Legacy union contract helps one caregiver pay for cancer treatment

 

At Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Hospital, more than 800 employees recently achieved a new contract that raises wages, improves workplace safety and makes healthcare more affordable for caregivers and their families.

Central to advocating for fair treatment and better benefits were people like Nicole Lewis, who works in nutrition services at Legacy’s Randall Children’s Hospital. Lewis, 29, was diagnosed with stage II lymphoma in 2014. She then underwent debilitating chemotherapy treatment that kept her from working for eight months. The cancer is in remission now, but with thousands of dollars of medical bills, Lewis is unable to afford her life-saving care.

Legacy had been her care provider as well as her employer. When she could no longer afford to pay her bills, Legacy took her to collections.

"I work in a hospital, and my insurance hardly covers anything—care or prescriptions," Lewis told Willamette Week while contract negotiations were underway. "I have to get scans every month, and every time, it's $500 out of my pocket.”

Lewis is one of many Legacy employees taken to collections for care provided by their employer. For years, caregivers have faced rising healthcare costs and have struggled to afford care for themselves and their families. But now Lewis and her colleagues are protected: their new contract includes a financial assistance program to reduce medical bills and guarantees members a reasonable payment plan.

Learn more about of the story behind Legacy employees’ successful fight for fair wages and better healthcare coverage in Willamette Week.

Pip Sweikert