Health care providers in North Carolina demand better patient support as they attempt to unionize.

By Tina Vásquez, Prism

Health care providers employed by North Carolina’s Piedmont Health Services (PHS) are awaiting the results of their union election, a pivotal step that is part of their larger push to address challenges that impact their ability to properly care for their patients. Their efforts are part of a larger trend. For health care workers nationwide, the pandemic has fueled a wave of labor organizing that seeks to address longstanding workplace issues that were exacerbated by COVID-19.

In an overwhelming show of support, over 70% of PHS’ eligible voters signed union cards. Many of the providers behind the organizing efforts are women in family medicine and sexual and reproductive health care whose patients come from marginalized communities and experience far better health care outcomes when they receive continuity of care. Six providers who spoke to Prism say that PHS’ “systemic inefficiencies” push talented and passionate providers out and hinder existing providers from delivering on PHS’ mission to provide high-quality health care to low-income and uninsured residents, including undocumented patients with few other health care options in central North Carolina.

protest sign

Filling crucial health care gaps 

PHS is a Federally Qualified Health Center, which the Health Resources and Services Administration defines as a community-based and patient-directed organization that “deliver[s] comprehensive, culturally competent, high-quality primary health care services to the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families.” For more than 50 years, PHS has provided some of the most comprehensive health care in Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Lee, Orange, Person, and Randolph counties—regardless of a person’s ability to pay, their insurance status, or their citizenship status.

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