COVID-19 Burn Out Causing More Resident Physicians to Unionize, Part 1

Author HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

This is part one in a blog series focusing on the effects of COVID burnout in healthcare professionals. Be sure to check back for part two.

As you know, residents are new physicians who have recently finished medical school and are spending three to seven years obtaining additional training in a medical specialty. Almost all hospitals practice independently; after all, they are doctors already. And in nearly all hospitals where resident physicians practice, they represent the front line of medical care. On duty all the time, on-call all the time, they are usually the first medical professional to see a new patient who can make a diagnosis and order tests or medications. In addition, resident physicians are generally the first to examine, diagnose, and treat a patient.

In most hospitals, in the past, residents were treated almost as indentured servants, required to work long hours without sleep, pull back-to-back shifts, and remain on call for extensive periods. This was considered a right of passage for resident physicians; a “baptism of fire.” If they couldn’t hack it, they did not deserve to be a physician in the specialty.

More than 80 Hours per Week-a Routine Occurrence.

However, recently (let’s say in the last decade or so), it has been recognized that overworked health professionals cannot provide optimum, safe patient care. This led such organizations as the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which accredits residency programs in the U.S., to require that such programs and hospitals that residents work in must limit the resident physician’s work hours to no more than 80 (yes, 80) hours per week. It got so bad that at least one state, New York, passed a law stating that it was illegal for resident physicians to work more than 80 hours per week.

However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were hospitals and residency programs that would require their residents to work more than 80 hours a week and to turn in false time sheets showing they had worked fewer. We have had many reports that such programs even meet with their residents before an ACGME inspection (or survey) and tell them they must lie to the investigators (or surveyors) and falsely state they did not work more than 80 hours.

COVID-19 Comes on the Scene.

However, in a real crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, where patients are coming into hospitals dying right and left, it must be acknowledged that resident physicians and other hospital staff will be working above and beyond the maximum, no matter what. The long hours, the lack of relief, the stress of losing patients, and the stress of exposure to a potentially deadly disease have taken their toll on many resident physicians. Those who have contracted the virus and had to rush their recovery and recuperation to get back to work have, perhaps, suffered the most.

Residents Banding Together to Unionize.

Many resident physicians are now banding together to demand higher wages, better benefits, and working conditions due mainly to the “burnout” they experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. They join nurses, medical assistants, and other health care workers who are unionizing and threatening to strike. In addition, staffing shortages, the rising cost of living, and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID vaccines have pushed them to their limits.

In some places, New York being a familiar example, resident physicians already had unions representing them in many areas. Now, this is expanding.

Check back soon to read part two of this blog series.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys Representing Residents, Fellows, and Medical Students.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents resident physicians, fellows, and students, including medical students, dental students, nursing students, pharmacy students, and other healthcare professional students, who have legal problems with their schools or programs. We also represent students, residents, and fellows in investigations, academic probation and suspensions, disciplinary hearings, clinical competence committee (CCC) hearings, and appeals of adverse actions taken against them. The Health Law Firm’s attorneys include those board-certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Weiner, Stacey. “Thousands of medical residents are unionizing. Here’s what that means for doctors, hospitals, and the patients they serve.” AAMC News. (June 7, 2022). Web.

Kwon, Sarah. “Burned out by COVID and 80-hour workweeks, resident physicians unionize.” Kaiser Health News. (May 27, 2022). Web.

Murphy, Brenden. “Why more resident physicians are looking to unionize.” AMA. (June 28, 2022). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law, is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2022 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Medical Resident Awarded More Than $400,000 in Hospital Breach of Contract Lawsuit

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On October 9, 2018, a jury in Michigan federal court awarded more than $400,000 to the parents of an international medical school graduate after finding that Pontiac General Hospital breached their son’s residency program contract. The law suit, which has been described as a “pay for play” case, was first filed in 2017 in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, Michigan.

Breach of Contract.

The Canadian family claims the owners of Pontiac General asked for $400,000 in exchange for their son’s acceptance into the facility’s residency program in the fall of 2016. Court records show that the medical graduate received a signed residency contract the same day his father paid the final of three checks. However, it is alleged that soon after paying the fee, the hospital breached the contract by declining to let him start the program, and to add insult to injury, the hospital refused to return the funds.

The eight member jury reached a unanimous verdict and the family was awarded a total of $484,000.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm routinely represent medical students, resident physicians and fellowship physicians, in legal disputes with their medical schools, residency and fellowship programs, and with the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), and legal representation and defense of charges of irregular behavior. This representation includes internal disciplinary and grievance hearings, administrative hearings, due process complaints, academic and conduct committee hearings, appeals, and civil litigation. Click here to learn more about how we can help you in situations like this.

Contact a Health Care Attorney that is Experienced in the Representation of Medical Students, Interns, Residents and Applicants, Fellows and Those Involved in Graduate Medical Education.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent interns, residents, fellows and medical school students in disputes with their medical schools, supervisors, residency programs and in dismissal hearings. We have experience representing such individuals and those in graduate medical education programs in various disputes regarding their academic and clinical performance, allegations of substance abuse, failure to complete integral parts training, alleged false or incomplete statements on applications, allegations of impairment (because of abuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol or because of mental or physical issues), because of discrimination due to race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation and any other matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

“Pontiac General Hospital ordered to pay over $400K to doctor in pay-to-play lawsuit.” WXYZ News Detroit. (October 9, 2018). Web.

Greene, Jay. “Family wins Pontiac General ‘pay-for-play’ residency case.” Modern Healthcare. (October 15, 2018). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2018 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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