Press Release: St. Charles Medical Group Physicians and Other Healthcare Workers To File for Union Representation

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St. Charles Medical Group Physicians and Other Healthcare Workers To File for Union Representation

For Immediate Release
June 3, 2022

Janet Bass                


BEND, Ore.— The Central Oregon Providers Network, representing approximately 300 St. Charles Medical Group physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other healthcare workers, filed for union representation today, joining the growing surge of workers across the country who are demanding a voice in the workplace.

The healthcare workers with the St. Charles Medical Group will join the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, a national union that includes 200,000 healthcare workers. The providers work at the four St. Charles hospitals and other healthcare facilities across six cities in central Oregon—Bend, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Redmond and Sisters. COPN hopes to hold an election in the coming weeks. It is relatively rare for physicians and other advanced-practice providers to seek union representation, making this effort especially significant.

The hospital system is facing a serious financial crisis, which COPN contends is a result of poor choices made before and during the pandemic. The union says that current management choices to address the budget crisis—choices that are detrimental to the quality of patient care—are being made without providers’ collaboration or input. Through a union and collective bargaining, COPN says it would work with hospital management to agree on decisions that will protect patients and their care.

“With a union, St. Charles will no longer be able to ignore our input affecting patient care. We need to be at the table and work with the administration to ensure patients are the top priority. Through collaboration, we can improve patient care and ensure responsible decision-making,” said Dr. Josh Plank, a hospitalist.

Tracy Kennelley, an urgent care physician assistant-certified, said she is concerned about increasing patient volumes and short-staffing.

“There’s no leeway when a provider has to call out. With upcoming budget cuts, that frequently leaves a solo provider in our Prineville and La Pine locations. It’s not safe for the patient or the provider,” Kennelley said. “We all are concerned that revenue is trumping patient care and that providers are required to see a certain number of patients per shift.”

Dr. Les Dixon, a St. Charles emergency department physician, said: “The Central Oregon Providers Network is standing together with one voice to advocate for better patient care for our community. We are the professionals who work directly with patients and know what it takes to provide safe, high-quality healthcare. Administration has ignored our input. With a union and collaboration, we can ensure responsible decision-making and preserve patient care through this financial crisis and beyond.”

Debbie Rief-Adams, a family nurse practitioner at St. Charles Sleep Center, said ignoring healthcare workers jeopardizes patient care. “Medical providers should have a seat at the table. Our union needs and wants to work with the administration to address working conditions and the quality of care we provide our patients and the community,” she said.

Mollie Skov-Ortega, president, Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center, in Eugene/Springfield, Ore., said she was thrilled to learn about the St. Charles organizing effort.

“When we voted to unionize almost eight years ago, it gave us the strength and the voice to be able to stand up for what matters most: patient care and patient safety. We stand behind the St. Charles group so they can have the opportunity to do the same,” she said.

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.