The labor dispute between Santa Clara County and physicians at its public health facilities are heating up this week, with continued complaints from doctors that they are being “pushed beyond health limits” by “a broken healthcare system.”
In a statement, Valley Physicians Group (VPG), which represents approximately 450 physicians in negotiations with the county on a new contract, cited a county doctor suicide in May and another attempted suicide by a county doctor on July 12 as examples of the impact of high-stress working conditions.
Physicians working in the Santa Clara County Health and Hospital System on June 29 delivered boxes containing more than 3,500 petitions urging Santa Clara County supervisors to support a fair contract with Santa Clara County’s publicly employed doctors.
The county physicians pointed to what they claim are chronic short staffing, unsafe patient workloads and other systemic barriers at the county that prevent them from providing the best possible care to their patients while maintaining physician well being.
They scheduled a press conference today at 12:15pm at Valley Medical Center Main Hospital to press their grievances with the county.
“Distinct from burnout or exhaustion, what physicians are experiencing is called ‘moral injury’ by experts who define the condition as occurring ‘when clinicians are repeatedly expected, in the course of providing care, to make choices that transgress their long standing, deeply held commitment to healing’,” the union said in a statement. “[This] often leads to physician mental health being minimized by employers.”
With a surging COVID variant expected to put more strain on the county’s healthcare system, doctors are calling on county leaders to implement immediate steps to address physician well being.
Their recommendations include:
- no longer pressuring county doctors to rectify the county’s failure to recruit adequate staff to operate clinics on weekends and holidays
- immediately allocating resources to mental health services
- resetting county expectations relating to physician workloads and well-being thresholds
- collaborating with doctors to address ongoing working condition issues and needs
“VPG physicians are dedicated to serving some of the most vulnerable members of our community, but we need the support of county leaders and hospital management to deliver the best care possible,” said VPG chairman Dr. Stephen J. Harris. “Instead, the county tries to squeeze as much as it can out of its publicly employed physicians while giving back as little as possible. Doctors are resilient, and no strangers to hard work and long hours. We are COVID-strong and COVID-tested, but there is a limit to how far we can be pushed, and we are being pushed too far right now.”
VPG physicians have worked without a contract for more than a year. The union said a proposal advanced in negotiations by county leaders “would make things worse by establishing a patients-per-hour standard that reduces the amount of time patients spend with their doctors and further stretches doctor workloads.”