Physician residents and fellows unionize at two major California health systems

Seeking stronger workplace protections, physician residents and fellows at both Stanford Health Care and the University of Southern California’s (USC) Keck School of Medicine have voted to join the Committee of Interns and Residents, a chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Despite being frontline healthcare workers, most Stanford residents were excluded from the first round of the health system’s COVID vaccine rollout in December 2020. The system ultimately revised its plan to include residents, but the delay damaged Stanford’s relationship with residents, adding momentum to the unionization movement. Meanwhile, Keck’s residents unanimously voted in favor of joining the union, aiming for higher compensation and greater workplace representation.

The Gist: While nurses and other healthcare workers in California, as in many other parts of the country, have been increasingly banding together for higher pay and better working conditions, physician residents and fellows contemplating unionization is a newer trend. 

Physicians-in-training have historically accepted long work hours and low pay as a rite of passage, and have shied away from organizing. But pandemic working conditions, the growing trend of physician employment, and generational shifts in the physician workforce have changed the profession in a multitude of ways. 

Health systems and training programs must actively engage in understanding and supporting the needs of younger doctors, who will soon comprise a majority of the physician workforce.

Judge approves $55M sale of Hahnemann residency programs

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-transactions-and-valuation/judge-approves-55m-sale-of-hahnemann-residency-programs.html

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Bankruptcy judge approves sale of Hahnemann residency slots
 
This week a Federal judge ruled that the owner of Hahnemann University Hospital could move forward with the sale of the system’s more than 550 residency slots as part of a plan to pay off creditors. The training slots will be sold to a consortium of health systems led by Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals for $55M. Hahnemann had previously agreed to sell the positions to Reading, PA-based Tower Health before they were outbid by the Jefferson consortium, who will keep the majority of the positions—and new physician labor—in the Philadelphia area.

The judge noted the difficulty of the decision, saying it was the kind of case that would “cause a judge to lie awake at night”. The ruling is huge win for debtors, and a blow to the Federal government, which strongly opposed the sale and has seven days to appeal.

Should it stand, the case could set the precedent that residents and the positions they hold are an asset that can be negotiated for and sold. Interns and residents provide low-cost labor that is essential for 24/7 coverage in many large hospitals, and the complex system of allocating and funding of residency training slots is a funds transfer from the Federal government to health systems.

Allowing hospitals to sell those slots to the highest bidder could undermine the stability of urban hospitals, particularly those who are investor-owned, as owners look to maximize short-term profits.