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Health Care New Castle County News

ChristianaCare doctors vote to unionize

Katie Tabeling

ChristianaCare has close to 13,000 employees. Doctors at its three major campuses in Delaware have voted to unionize. | BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON  — The doctors at ChristianaCare have successfully voted to unionize, marking a historic moment in Delaware.

In a vote that lasted a week, ending Thursday night, hospital and emergency room doctors voted 288-130 to join the Doctor’s Council, SEIU Local 10 MD. The vote was counted on June 27 with two National Labor Relations Board officials present, along with ChristianaCare administrators and employees.

“We are excited and ready to get started on the work,” said Dr. Bryan Haimes, who was one of the unionization leaders. “My main hope is that we can, in turn, work together to focus on better serving our patients. It’s exciting to be part of something that has the potential to impact health care in Delaware.”

In May, two-thirds of 400 physicians that work at ChristianaCare’s Christiana and Wilmington hospitals, its cancer center and its Middletown emergency center, signed cards that sought to authorize a union election to join the Doctors Council Service Employees International Union. 

Doctors told several media outlets, including the Delaware Business Times, that staff has been overworked over the past couple years and that many have left ChristianaCare, shifting the burden onto those who remain. Haimes said that, in particular, 23 of his colleagues have left in just under three years.

Last winter, ChristianaCare announced it would roll out “time away practice” in July 2024.  in July 2024. This model would reportedly pay out the paid time off for physicians up to 145 hours over the next months. 

But it would also create a system where physicians would have time away from practice banks that could be used for time off. Under the new model, pay is based on working 40 hours a week throughout the year, with time off unpaid — and taking on additional shifts would recoup that loss.

While this contract has already been locked in for the next three years, Haimes said the union’s attention will now be focused on building the support and infrastructure needed for its members, as specialists may have different concerns and needs to be met in the workforce than others.

ChristianaCare has one week to accept or contest the results of the union vote. Representatives with the health care organization did not indicate whether it planned to challenge the election.

“ChristianaCare respects the right of our physicians to determine whether or not they want to be represented by a union. We are proud of the outstanding care provided by ChristianaCare physicians to our patients and community. As always, our focus remains on our mission of serving our neighbors,” ChristianaCare spokesman William Schmitt said.

In the weeks leading up to the historic vote which could lead to the first union in ChristianaCare’s history, executives met with staff as well as launched an information campaign, citing concerns that a union would interfere with culture at the health system. In early June, ChristianaCare shook up its leadership and “parted ways” with ChristianaCare Medical Group President Lisa Maxwell and Chief Medical Officer Roger Kerzner, two top officials that oversee managing the hundreds of doctors and medical professionals.

Unionization efforts among health care practices are relatively new, and this vote is among the first of any major hospital system in Delaware. The American Medical Association recently noted that physicians who are union members have grown 26% between 2014 and 2019. The Doctors Council Service Employees International Union has helped about 4,000 doctors unionize at public and private systems in New York City, Wisconsin, Chicago and elsewhere.

Delaware Healthcare Association President and CEO Brian Frazee said that Delaware’s hospitals have been challenged with burnout, inflation and low reimbursement rates, restricting choices hospitals can make. He added that a robust health care workforce was vital to the state’s health.

“The past several years have been challenging for our healthcare workforce in Delaware and across the nation as provider shortages persist at the same time the healthcare needs of our aging and growing population are increasing,” Frazee said. “Delaware hospitals and health systems value our dedicated caregivers and will continue to work together with state partners on policy solutions that strengthen our healthcare workforce.”

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