PHYSICIAN UNIONIZATION: Los Angeles County Doctors to Vote
Los Angeles County physicians who say they are tired of being "pawns of managed care and bureaucracy" will vote next month to unionize in "the largest campaign to organize public-sector doctors in U.S. history," the Los Angeles Times reports. While the unionization drive reveals the backlash against managed care, it "also speaks volumes about the stumbling attempts" to fix the county hospital system. The Times reports that "[d]isciplinary actions against doctors are up, medical services are going contracted out to the profit-hungry private sector and cost-cutting moves, such as consolidating laboratories, have sparked an uproar over possible harm to patient care." Said one hospital radiologist, "We don't even feel like physicians anymore, we feel like an assembly line." Mark Finucane, director of the county Health Department, "denies his administration is obsessed with cutting costs and says he has tried to include doctors in management."
A Public Concern
The Times reports that one of the cost-saving moves has been to use private contractors in the public hospitals, which has earned the ire of the union leaders. And a recent proposal that would make it easier for the health department to secure outside contractors has "raised new alarms" among union leaders concerned that it would undermine their efforts. Joe Bader, director of the local office of the Union of American Physicians, said, "We see what's happening in the private sector. These medical groups ... are poorly run and the doctors are hired and fired at will and patients are stranded." Finucane dismissed the concerns, saying that contracting out is "a technical way to renegotiate agreements with universities" that often pay the doctors' salaries. "It's an illustration of this hypersensitive atmosphere that this is looked at as some effort to bust up unions," said Finucane (Riccardi, 4/12).