ChristianaCare doctors look to unionize citing need for improved working conditions, patient safety

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Thursday, May 16, 2024
ChristianaCare doctors look to unionize citing need for improved working conditions, patient safety
ChristianaCare doctors look to unionize citing need for improved working conditions, patient safety

NEWARK, Delaware (WPVI) -- ChristianaCare physicians in Delaware have filed paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union.

Doctors say in recent years, issues such as burnout, being understaffed, recruitment, and retention have gone unaddressed by hospital administration.

Now, they felt they had no other choice.

"I think our hands were forced to do this. All of the physicians are reaching a breaking point," said ChristianaCare Hospitalist, Dr. Ragu Sanjeev, one of the leaders of the effort.

Doctors also say "compensation redesign" by the hospital would take away doctors' paid time off, which they say is essential to preventing burnout.

Under this plan, vacation and other time off would not be compensated.

"That's what really frustrated us and that's what broke the camel's back so to speak," said Dr. Gennadiy Ryklin with ChristianaCare.

However, doctors say their goal is better patient care and outcomes, which they believe are being negatively affected by current conditions.

"It always starts in the emergency room and right now, the one thing that we see is patients can't even get an emergency room bed. We're practicing hallway medicine," said Dr. Ryklin.

Among roughly 400 eligible doctors in the system, leaders say there's about 70% in support to unionize.

Doctors say they want patients' needs prioritized, more input in decision-making, better benefits, and less corporate influence.

They say there's been a shift to more doctors employed by hospitals as opposed to working in private practice or being self-employed.

"Corporatization of medicine has expanded its claws over us, how we practice medicine, how we take care of patients," said Dr. Sanjeev.

"I personally have felt in my five years as an attending physician, and my colleagues that have been in it for decades, they've seen that their voice has been lost with the corporatization of medicine, of private equity firms coming in and buying hospitals," echoed Dr. Ryklin.

In response to doctors' concerns and efforts to unionize, ChristianaCare issued the following statement to Action News:

"At ChristianaCare, we are proud of our physicians, who deliver world-class care while serving our patients and our community with love and excellence. We believe that continuing to have a direct relationship with physicians is an essential component of our continued shared success. We have received the petition from Doctors Council SEIU Local 10 MD and recognize the right of all employees to vote on whether or not they want a union to represent them."

Doctors say they want to work with their employers to improve their workplace and care for patients.

"In no way is this adversarial. We want to work together with our employer to enact positive change," said Dr. Ryklin.

If efforts to unionize are successful, physicians at ChristianaCare Christiana Hospital in Newark, the Wilmington Hospital, and Middletown ER would all be represented.

Unions among physicians aren't very common, but given conditions at hospitals across the country post-pandemic, it has happened in other places and could be a growing trend, according to Dr. Sanjeev.

"The trend has started primarily due to us being asked to do more and more with less and less of everything, including time and energy. The situation that exists currently does not let us practice medicine the way we want to, which is the right way," Dr. Sanjeev said.

The National Labor Relations Board confirms it has received the doctors' petition. Doctors at ChristianaCare hope to have a vote in six to eight weeks.