BEND, OR -- More than 300 physicians, psychologists, midwives, and other providers who work at St Charles hospitals and clinics around Central Oregon are taking an unusual step. They say they have filed for union representation. Physician Assistant Erin Butler tells KBND News frustration with the administration came to a breaking point three months ago, when Chief Medical Officer Richard Freeman was let go. "We had been making really good strides; people were feeling confident that we were part of a meaningful system, I think. Dr. Freeman was someone who we felt that he was going to bat for us and that he was on our team," She says, "To lose him, we really felt like we were losing our legs."
Butler says many feel the health system thinks they’re expendable and left out of important discussions, "It was fairly clear that we were not the ones who were directing care and providing that input; that it was decisions being made by administrators focused more on money than patient care." She adds, "There have been changes and decisions made at the administrative level at St. Charles that haven’t taken into consideration the actual well-being of the communities, input from the providers who are providing that care and it’s gotten to the point where we really feel that they’ve overstepped their bounds and are making short-sighted decisions." Butler says the decision to unionize will not impact patient care.
St. Charles Health System issued the following written statement Friday:
St. Charles Medical Group is the employed provider arm of St. Charles Health System. It encompasses about 300 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, licensed clinical psychologists and other health professionals. Many providers who practice in St. Charles’ hospitals are not part of this group.
“As always, we want to reassure our community that patient care is and will continue to be our top priority,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive for St. Charles Health System. “We greatly value our employed providers and respect their right to take this step, although we’d far prefer to work directly with them in partnership while navigating these unprecedented times. We know many health care workers are frustrated and exhausted after the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our focus as individuals and a health system needs to be on healing and recovering from the pandemic and stabilizing our finances so that we can preserve and strengthen the vital health care services that we provide to our community.”