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PeaceHealth clinicians vote to unionize

New contract for physician assistants, others could come in 1 year

About 90 PeaceHealth clinicians voted to unionize
About 90 PeaceHealth clinicians voted to unionize (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

About 90 mid-level providers at PeaceHealth won the right to unionize, after votes cast by physician assistants, nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives were counted Monday, Sept. 18.  

The PeaceHealth clinicians, who work outside hospitals in Whatcom and Skagit counties, accepted a proposal to join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD) with 75% of the vote. The National Labor Relations Board is expected to certify the result in the next week, a UAPD news release said.

In a statement, Bev Mayhew, a senior director of marketing and communications at PeaceHealth, said management is “committed to entering into good-faith negotiations with UAPD.” 

“PeaceHealth accepts the initial tally of the vote in favor of representation,” Mayhew stated. “More important than the outcome of the vote is the shared commitment of taking care of one another and creating a safe, healing environment for our patients and their families.”

Top PeaceHealth managers sent a letter to advanced practice clinicians on Aug. 22, after ballots were mailed to them, encouraging them to vote “no.”

The letter, signed by Chief Medical Officer Jim Bochsler and Denise Walker, vice president of operations, said management had already increased pay and staffing by working directly with clinicians.

“We look forward to building the future of health care together — not as two contractual parties at a negotiating table — but as true colleagues,” the August letter said.

After this week’s vote count, however, bargaining sessions are in PeaceHealth’s future. UAPD historically negotiates first contracts within a year of the union vote, an advanced practice clinician said. Cascadia Daily News granted the provider anonymity because they feared retaliation from their employer. 

“Being a part of a union will allow us to advocate for our patients without the fear of losing our jobs, and we are hopeful for a contract that will result in improved [advanced practice clinician] retention, satisfaction and ultimately better patient care,” the clinician said.

The providers filed for union status in July, citing increased pressures from management to fit more patients into their schedules, in order to boost revenue. 

A UAPD news release from July said concerns about “assembly-line care” at PeaceHealth have been brewing for three years.

“In recent months those issues have grown to include the health care organization’s long-term viability in Bellingham, amid news reports of financial shortfalls, clinic closures and layoffs,” the July release said.

Earlier this year, PeaceHealth terminated comprehensive outpatient palliative care, closed some of its clinics and laid off providers, in cost-cutting moves. The health system has since announced it will reinstate outpatient palliative care, with support from the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation.

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