Puget Sound doctors picket, threaten to strike against MultiCare amid Covid-19 safety concerns
The pandemic has heightened longstanding concerns felt by people working in health care.
Now, roughly 100 urgent care doctors and other health care workers are threatening to strike in the Puget Sound region.
In Tacoma, doctors and physicians assistants in white coats demonstrated in front of an urgent care to the sound of the song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. Cars passed by and honked.
The employees of Indigo Urgent Care work at clinics from Lacey to Marysville and say ongoing contract negotiations are not yielding the kind of working conditions or protections against Covid-19 they want.
“What we want is some reasonable time to take a break — maybe to eat something in 12 hours, maybe to go get a drink, maybe to go to the bathroom, and then we want to be able to manage the end of the day,” said Dr. Amir Atabeygi, a family doctor at Indigo clinics in Thurston County.
That’s a major concern Atabeygi and others raise: If a flood of patients come one minute before closing, health care workers have to stay late to see them all.
On top of that, doctors are not given the most protective N95 masks and are not allowed to bring their own either, he said.
There is no immediate date for a strike yet.
The doctors and other health care workers joined the Union of American Physicians and Dentists last year and have been negotiating for a contract since then.
The union has approximately 4,000 members nationwide and has seen a growing interest in membership since the start of the pandemic, said executive director Douglas Chiappetta, who came to Tacoma for the demonstration.
“Historically, we would get one inquiry per week, once every couple of weeks," he said. "We now get six to eight on a weekly basis."
In a statement, MultiCare said all its clinics have adequate personal protective equipment, and doctors are encouraged and required to take breaks. The organization is confident its staff are safe, the statement said.
“To ensure the efficacy of PPE, we require our employees to use MultiCare-provided PPE that’s passed our inspection and meets our high standards,” said Marce Edwards Olson, executive director of Corporate Communications at MultiCare in a statement.
“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."
MultiCare has already tentatively agreed to “many contract details,” including on safety and dispute resolution, the statement said.
N95s are only needed for certain procedures, not including testing for Covid-19, according to MultiCare.
Atabeygi worries about the risk to health care workers generated by constant exposure to patients sick with Covid.
Half the patients come because they’re concerned about Covid, he said, but health care workers have had to reuse masks and gowns.
“I constantly worry about getting sick,” he said. “I just had a baby two months ago and I’m worried I’m going to take it home. When my wife was pregnant, I worried about taking it home.”
He added that he feels pressure to see patients as quickly as possible.
“It’s all day — just room, to room, to room. And that’s all we do," he said. "The staff consistently have to remind us, ‘Go drink some water, go get something to eat, go to the bathroom,’ because there’s so much pressure on us to just go room, to room, to room, to room, to room.”