Doctors at Sacred Heart Will Head to the Picket Line – UPDATED

Doctors at Sacred Heard Will Head to Picket Line - UPDATED

Update: The hospitalists were able to settle their contract with Sacred Heart Medical Centers.

In 2015, doctors at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Centers in Springfield and Eugene made history when they became the first hospital doctors to organize a labor union. After nearly 18 months of negotiations with PeaceHealth without reaching a fair contract that prioritizes patient care, the Lane County community is poised to witness another first: hospital doctors leading an informational picket.

On Tuesday, June 7, the hospitalists at Sacred Heart—doctors who supervise patients’ care while they are in the hospital—filed notice of an informational picket to be held outside PeaceHealth’s Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend on Thursday, June 23 from noon to 1:30 p.m. The hospitalists filed notice with Garvey Schubert Barer, the Seattle-based law firm representing PeaceHealth management in negotiations with the hospitalists. The hospitalists are members of the first and only hospitalist-specific union in the United States, the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association (PNWHMA).

The PNWHMA picket will highlight critical health care issues that impact patient care and safety at PeaceHealth. Contract negotiations between hospitalists and PeaceHealth are stalled due to PeaceHealth’s unwillingness to allow the hospitalists to practice medicine in the safest manner possible; with reasonable patient loads, and without interference from administrators who do not practice medicine. Administrators cannot be allowed to continue standing between physicians and their patients and dictating how many patients each physician must see per day—regardless of the complexity or circumstances of each patient’s case.

Hospitalists are fighting to ensure patient safety, to advocate for patients, and to ensure physicians are not forced to care for dangerously high numbers of patients at once.

“I always return to the golden rule of, 'If my mother was my patient, what would I want for her?’ I do not want an overworked, burned out, exhausted physician still at work after 15 hours on day 7 of their work stretch trying to manage my mother's care when she is ill. That is exactly what was happening when I came to work at Sacred Heart, and why I was proud that we could push back against the administration once we had unionized,” said Dr. Brittany Ellison, a hospitalist at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“We unionized in order to protect our ability to always provide optimal care for those in our community and beyond who seek care at Sacred Heart. We will picket, and even go on strike if necessary, to secure a contract that ensures decisions made by administrators can never impede our freedom to act in the best interest of our patients,” said Dr. Frank Littell, a hospitalist at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

The June 23 picket will be for informational purposes. It is not a strike and Sacred Heart Medical Center will be open and operating as normal. All participants in the picket will do so on their own time. Community members are invited to participate and show support for their local doctors.

The PNWHMA was formed in October 2014 in response to PeaceHealth’s plans to outsource patient care to a private for-profit temp agency. The story of the union’s formation, the first of its kind in the US, was featured in the New York Times in January 2016 [Doctors Unionize to Resist the Medical Machine]. The hospitalists have been in negotiations with PeaceHealth for a first contract since December 2014. Negotiations have grown increasingly unproductive, with PeaceHealth negotiators flatly refusing to meet with union negotiators in the presence of supporters from other hospital unions on June 7.

The PNWHMA is part of a coalition of unions at Sacred Heart which includes the Oregon Nurses Association, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701, and the Service Employees International Union Local 49. The other coalition member unions have all sent letters of support for the hospitalists to PeaceHealth’s administration.

The PNWHMA is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as Local 6552.

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