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St. Charles Medical Group physicians, other health care workers file for union representation

St. Charles Medical Group physicians, other health care workers file for union representation

Health system official: We ‘respect their right’ to join union, but would ‘far prefer to work directly with them

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) —The Central Oregon Providers Network, representing about 300 St. Charles Medical Group physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other healthcare workers, filed for union representation Friday, joining what officials called “the growing surge of workers across the country who are demanding a voice in the workplace.”

If successful, the healthcare workers with the St. Charles Medical Group would join the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, a national union that includes 200,000 healthcare workers.

A union representative said about two-thirds of the workers who would become union members signed cards indicating their support of the effort.

Here’s the rest of the AFT news release, in full, and a statement from St. Charles. NewsChannel 21’s Noah Chast is at Friday’s news conference and will have a report at 5:

The providers work at the four St. Charles hospitals and other healthcare facilities across six cities in Central Oregon—Bend, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Redmond and Sisters. COPN hopes to hold an election in the coming weeks. It is relatively rare for physicians and other advanced-practice providers to seek union representation, making this effort especially significant.

The hospital system is facing a serious financial crisis, which COPN contends is a result of poor choices made before and during the pandemic. The union says that current management choices to address the budget crisis—choices that are detrimental to the quality of patient care—are being made without providers’ collaboration or input. Through a union and collective bargaining, COPN says it would work with hospital management to agree on decisions that will protect patients and their care.

“With a union, St. Charles will no longer be able to ignore our input affecting patient care. We need to be at the table and work with the administration to ensure patients are the top priority. Through collaboration, we can improve patient care and ensure responsible decision-making,” said Dr. Josh Plank, a hospitalist.

Tracy Kennelley, an urgent care physician assistant-certified, said she is concerned about increasing patient volumes and short-staffing.

“There’s no leeway when a provider has to call out. With upcoming budget cuts, that frequently leaves a solo provider in our Prineville and La Pine locations. It’s not safe for the patient or the provider,” Kennelley said. “We all are concerned that revenue is trumping patient care and that providers are required to see a certain number of patients per shift.”

Dr. Les Dixon, a St. Charles emergency department physician, said: “The Central Oregon Providers Network is standing together with one voice to advocate for better patient care for our community. We are the professionals who work directly with patients and know what it takes to provide safe, high-quality healthcare. Administration has ignored our input. With a union and collaboration, we can ensure responsible decision-making and preserve patient care through this financial crisis and beyond.”

Debbie Rief-Adams, a family nurse practitioner at St. Charles Sleep Center, said ignoring healthcare workers jeopardizes patient care. “Medical providers should have a seat at the table. Our union needs and wants to work with the administration to address working conditions and the quality of care we provide our patients and the community,” she said.

Mollie Skov-Ortega, president, Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center, in Eugene/Springfield, Ore., said she was thrilled to learn about the St. Charles organizing effort.

“When we voted to unionize almost eight years ago, it gave us the strength and the voice to be able to stand up for what matters most: patient care and patient safety. We stand behind the St. Charles group so they can have the opportunity to do the same,” she said.

The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.

St. Charles Health System, made aware of the union petition plans, issued this statement Friday morning:

Statement on St. Charles Medical Group providers’ plan to unionize

On Thursday, St. Charles learned that four St. Charles Medical Group providers are planning to hold a press conference today to announce their intention to unionize.

St. Charles Medical Group is the employed provider arm of St. Charles Health System. It encompasses about 300 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, licensed clinical psychologists and other health professionals. Many providers who practice in St. Charles’ hospitals are not part of this group.  

“As always, we want to reassure our community that patient care is and will continue to be our top priority,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive for St. Charles Health System. “We greatly value our employed providers and respect their right to take this step, although we’d far prefer to work directly with them in partnership while navigating these unprecedented times. We know many health care workers are frustrated and exhausted after the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our focus as individuals and a health system needs to be on healing and recovering from the pandemic and stabilizing our finances so that we can preserve and strengthen the vital health care services that we provide to our community.”

The post St. Charles Medical Group physicians, other health care workers file for union representation appeared first on KTVZ.
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