Medical residents on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic at Park Slope’s Methodist Hospital have been operating without a contract for several months after they say hospital administrators snubbed them during negotiations.
“We have been trying to renegotiate our union contract with Methodist since the fall,” said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation. “And the process has just been getting delayed and delayed.”
Their union negotiated their previous multi-year contract that expired in October 2019, forcing them to work without a stable contract ever since — and management has routinely avoided reopening negotiations and denied them a scheduled raise last November, said the resident.
“We had planned to get them back to the negotiation table early this month, or late last month, and again they just didn’t meet with us when we had planned and discussed having another meeting,” she said.
Without a contract, the residents — who are typically post-graduates gaining three years experience under a senior medical practitioner before operating independently — work under the expectation that the terms in the expired contract will be maintained without any real protections to ensure they are followed.
The lack of a long term contract adds to the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, which has put the medics-in-training on the front lines and made them more important than ever.
“All of us were happy to step up to the plate so we got redeployed to these specialties to help the COVID patients,” said the resident. “We are willing to do anything for our patients, but we have to hope the administration can do the same for us.
Another medical resident at Methodist echoed his coworkers’ sentiment and said that re-upping their contract would help put their mind at ease during the pandemic.
“I think one component to increase stability and give us a little control back in our lives would be having a settled contract and having that off our plate as we chip in,” the resident said.
Adding salt to the wounds, the Brooklyn residents are denied some privileges given to their Manhattan colleagues — such as equal housing opportunities and the same access to medical journal databases, said one of the disgruntled medics.
“We think that when we take care of Brooklyn patients we do just as good of a job as our Manhattan counterparts,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “We think that physicians who take care of Brooklyn patients should be paid as much as physicians who take care of Manhattan patients.”
On top of that, the medical trainees are also passionate about reutilizing the Patient Care Fund, a program that finances medical equipment that hasn’t been operational since 2017, which the residents said would help them better care for patients.
“Since 2017, we have had a large issue with the hospital even trying to get these purchases approved,” the resident said. “We just want it to be functional again.”
Hospital administrators, in a statement to Brooklyn Paper, alluded to the novel coronavirus as a reason for the slowed negotiations — although did not explain why the negotiations were not completed in the months before the pandemic.
“We greatly value our interns and residents, who have worked bravely alongside our other heroic health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic. We respect their right to collectively bargain their wages and benefits, and we are eager to return to the bargaining table with their union later this month now that his extremely intense and demanding period for our hospital has begun to subside,” the statement read. “Our goal will be to negotiate in good faith to reach a fair and reasonable agreement that recognizes the important role interns and residents play at our hospital.”
Yet, even the coronavirus was not an ample excuse for the residents, who pointed to other hospitals that have successfully renegotiated contracts during the pandemic.
“Even during the pandemic, there actually were other hospitals that were able to settle their contracts and move things forward with their residents,” he said. “But we seem to have been left behind even as the pandemic has wound down.”
The group took their demands outside the hospital on May 11 during the nightly 7 pm clap meant to honor frontline workers, when a group of off-duty residents joined local Councilman Brad Lander to rally for a new contract.
“I support the efforts of the residents who are fighting for pay parity, a voice in their workplace, adequate protective equipment, and other rights and protections,” Lander told Brooklyn Paper. “These healthcare workers are going above and beyond in unimaginable ways right now, and we must do everything we can to ensure they get the pay, benefits, respect and dignity that they so deeply deserve.”