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Hospitalists Unionize to Avoid Outsourced Management Model


 

A group of hospitalists in Oregon have formed what is believed to be the first hospitalist union in the country—but it may not be the last.

Hospitalists at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center locations in Springfield and Eugene, Ore., voted to form the union, dubbed Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, to have more say in patient care and working conditions there. Talk of unionizing started after hospitalists objected to a recommendation by a PeaceHealth consultant that their group's employment model be outsourced and run by a national management firm rather than remain hospital-owned.

"We really didn't have much of a say other than all quitting, which we didn't want to do because we like where we work," says hospitalist and union spokesperson David Schwartz, MD. "We started talking about unionizing."

The union is under the umbrella of the American Federation of Teachers, and likely is the first of its kind in the nation. The group started with 38 members, but 12 physicians who did not want to be managed under a national firm have left.

Now, the union is trying to persuade PeaceHealth to keep the group's management in-house. If not, the union will look to negotiate a contract with a national management firm chosen by its hospital administration.

A union of hospital physicians is uncommon. Healthcare workers often unionize but not individual specialists. Dr. Schwartz says he is curious to see whether other hospitalists who feel they want more of a say in their practice management will follow suit.

"The fact that we unionized seemed to galvanize a lot of the staff at the hospital," he says. "This might be a wave of the future. … Now people have a choice, which is interesting to watch."

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