October 9, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Doctor morale at the city’s safety net hospitals has hit an all-new low according to the union representing public sector physicians – and the lack of progress in contract talks, as well as the cold shoulder the Health & Hospital Corporation has given healers hoping to help shape systemwide reforms, is the reason why.
“We’re extending our hand, and it’s not being taken,” says Dr. Frank Proscia, president of Doctors Council SEIU – the largest doctors union in the nation.
That’s not the response the roughly 4,000-member organization expected after it poured a ton of money into last year’s election, and helped boost Mayor Bill de Blasio’s candidacy during the Democratic primary.
Doctors in New York City’s public hospitals who have been working without a contract between two and five years continue to do so 10 months into the new administration, while the white paper on systemwide reform that the union spent eight months crafting in conjunction with Cornell University, landed on the desk of HHC President Dr. Ram Raju last spring with a “thud” and little else.
Dr. Proscia is quick to defend the mayor, and insists hizzonor is doing a “grand job,” but says that that a collection of stultified managers throughout the HHC system has yet to realize that a new era of cooperation between the city and its municipal employees has begun.
“The whole administration in New York City has changed, unfortunately, many of the managers in the key agencies agencies like HHC are still from the prior era,” Dr. Proscia says. “The rest of the city has moved on, and HHC has to learn that.”
In the wake of the Affordable Health Care Act, doctors are hoping to move away from HHC’s traditional top-down management approach in favor of greater input from frontline physicians on issues involving patient care.
“We’re not saying we want to become mangers, but involve us in the decisions that are effecting us and the patients,” Dr. Proscia says.
At the same time, doctors are beginning to feel like “ping-pong balls” at the bargaining table because their union is reportedly being batted back and forth between the city and the HHC affiliates that technically employ them.
“It’s almost as if they desire just to ‘kick the can,’ and give the doctors another year without a contract,” Dr. Proscia says.
The overall result, according to the union chief, is a whole lot of demoralized doctors who feel increasingly disrespected and could start seriously contemplating leaving the system entirely.
According to Dr. Proscia, the city’s inaction is creating a “vicious cycle” in which it will become increasing more difficult for HHC to lure and retain topflight doctors.
Wiley Norvell, deputy press secretary for the Mayor’s Office, however, says that the administration is on the case.
“We are currently in negotiations with the Doctors Council, and officials at City Hall also anticipate meeting with the organization in the near future to discuss how we can improve our healthcare delivery system,” Norvell said.