TACOMA, Wash. - Members of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists voted on Thursday to approve a two-day strike later this month at 20 MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care facilities.
According to the union, physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants will strike on Nov. 23 and 24. They claim that MultiCare is placing profit before care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For too long these providers have been subjected to irresponsible and unsafe policies including working 12+ hour shifts, sometimes seeing over 70 patients in one day without breaks. Not only has MultiCare put patients at risk through these assembly line conditions, but since the COVID-19 outbreak, MultiCare refuses to allow providers to wear N95 masks, even if they purchase our own,” said Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of UAPD and former urgent care physician. “MultiCare again refused the providers N95s just before the strike announcement last night. These practices are not only exhausting for providers, but more importantly, they are extremely risky for our patients who deserve the best possible care. It is no exaggeration to state this is a matter of life and death.”
“The recent outbreak of COVID-19 within MultiCare’s hospital system should have been a wake-up call, but it was not," said Bussey. "So, out of concern for patients, doctors will strike and we are calling upon the public to stand with healthcare providers who are working the frontlines of a pandemic.”
MultiCare provided the following statement to Q13 News:
"We are disappointed that UAPD decided to strike during a pandemic, a time when our patients need our care more than ever. This potentially affects 20 of Indigo’s 34 clinics. All MultiCare primary and specialty care clinics as well as our hospitals and emergency departments will be open for people who need health care services. We will communicate with patients and the communities affected by this strike if it takes place.
"Our top priority in our negotiations with UAPD has always been a fair contract that supports staff and patient safety and the communities we serve.
"Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to reach an agreement over wages and a few other issues. We met with UAPD on Thursday, Nov. 12 to continue our conversations. We recently asked the Federal Mediation and Conciliatory Services to assist in a mediation process. We have a session set with a federal mediator next week.
"We remain committed to the negotiation process and are working hard to negotiate a fair labor contract."
Employees at the clinics say they are still not getting proper personal protective equipment to test and treat COVID-19 patients more than nine months into the pandemic.
In a complaint sent to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries this month, the Union of American Physicians and Dentists alleges that health care workers from 20 different MultiCare Indigo clinics, from Tumwater to Marysville, say they are only partially protected.
“I am intimately familiar with what the L&I guidelines are for PPE and in my MultiCare position, we do not have it,” said M.C. Nachtigal, a nurse practitioner at MultiCare Indigo urgent care clinics in Seattle.
Allegations of improper protection include a lack of N95 masks and inconsistent use of plastic shields at check-in counters.
“Being in the medical field, seeing patients every day, you think they’d air on the side of caution and have more PPE available,” said Dr. Brian Fox, a physician at MultiCare Indigo clinics. “But we’re having trouble even getting to the baseline.”
Over the summer, the union had flagged L&I to potentially improper PPE practices at these clinics, like reusing gowns and not having N95 masks. At the time, the state did not find any violations because the nationwide PPE shortage forced the health care industry to relax standards.
However, the state wrote in October that, “Since PPE is no longer in short supply, you will be required to provide adequate respiratory protection at all times when workers provide care for suspect and positive COVID-19 patients.”
Workers claim the clinics are still not meeting standards but MultiCare says it is and provided this statement to Q13 News: “We’ve vetted our use of masks and PPE with infectious disease and infection control physicians and specialists internally and compared our PPE guidelines to other similar organizations. We’re completely confident our staff is safe, and we have no clinical evidence to the contrary.”
The MultiCare company is also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at Auburn Medical Center, where the virus has spread to more than a dozen patients and health care workers. On Tuesday, an affected patient died.
“This tragedy in Auburn, it hopefully is a wake-up call that the staff is not adequately protected, patients are not adequately protected, you cannot rely on just basics in these things,” Fox said.
Q13 News has reached out to the state for a response to union complaints.