More than 500 doctors, providers with Allina Health set to vote to unionize

Hundreds of doctors and other top medical providers with Allina Health are getting ready to vote on whether to unionize. 

If the vote goes through, the group would be the largest private-sector health union in the country’s history. It includes more than 500 doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants across 56 primary care and urgent care clinics. The clinics are all in Minnesota, except for one in River Falls, Wisconsin.

"People are getting burned out. People are leaving medicine. People are cutting back their hours, which is terrible for the system because we can't accommodate the patients now," said Dr. Matt Hoffman, a family medicine doctor with Allina Health.

On Wednesday, a group of organizers held a news conference. They said a year ago, they didn’t all know each other and that was a big barrier to unionizing, given that their clinics are spread out throughout the entire state. However, the group of medical professionals bonded over reaching a breaking point. Dr. Jennifer Mehmel, a pediatrician of more than 30 years, said she feels like doctors have become "an assembly line of care."

"We aren't fearful anymore because things can't get any worse. And my biggest fear is that we won't have primary care and urgent care in the future because of what has been happening," added Dr. Liz Koffel, a physician at Allina Health’s Richfield clinic.

The medical providers have been clear that their desire to unionize isn't about money, it’s about fixing a "broken" healthcare system that only got worse during the pandemic. They want to have a voice in decisions about patient care, even as far as billing concerns or conversations with insurance companies. They said they’re constantly being asked to take on, or double-book, patients at a time when families are struggling to book routine appointments due to staffing shortages and layoffs.

"People can't get checkups. People can't call a clinic and ask to get a new doctor because they just moved to town. There's clinics where they're having to shut the lab services down before the end of the clinic day because we don't have people to draw the blood," said Beth Gunhus, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Allina Health.

Dr. Katherine Oyster, a family medicine provider with Allina Health, told FOX 9 she’s concerned that not enough money is being directed toward support staffing, and doctors are spending more personal time responding to patient needs.

"My colleagues that have families, that have young children – it's tough on their soul and their psyche to have to choose between being a good provider and being a good family member," she said.

The primary care and urgent care providers are now considering unionizing as their way of taking back responsibility over patient care. The union election with Doctors Council SEIU, Local 10MD is expected in the coming weeks. If their efforts are successful, they would be joined by 140 doctors at Allina's Mercy and Unity hospitals who voted to unionize in March but argue their employer has refused to recognize their union.

Dr. Nick VenOsdel, a physician with Allina Health, said the pandemic accelerated the burnout and exacerbated the workforce shortage, but medical providers have been sounding the alarm for years.

"In the last 10, 15 years, I've been hearing this from my attendings, people who have been training me, that medicine is changing, that they're starting to lose the ability to make decisions for their practices and for their patients," VenOsdel told FOX 9.

Oyster also pointed to scheduling concerns and not being able to build rapport with patients as reasons they feel the job is less fulfilling and patients are potentially being harmed. She said the concept of striking has been a big hesitation for providers to unionize, but that discussion is a long way off and doctors will do what they feel is necessary.

"By standing by and not doing anything is also potentially causing harm to the patients. We don't want to strike. We want to do everything we possibly can so that we don't end up striking," Oyster said.

Allina Health said in a statement: 

"At Allina Health, we deeply value the critical role our providers play in providing exceptional care to the communities we serve. We are actively engaged in listening to them and responding with changes to better support their ability to care for patients and their well-being. Allina Health remains focused on delivering on our caring mission and ongoing efforts to foster a culture of collaboration and communication with all our employees."

On Wednesday, Allina added:

Allina Health’s providers are critical members of our teams and integral to our mission to provide exceptional care to the communities we serve. We deeply value and share their commitment to providing high-quality care to our patients. That shared commitment is the foundation of our collaboration to identify ways to increase provider engagement through operational improvements, new communication tools, additional well-being resources, and enhanced employee benefits to improve the provider experience.

Allina Health remains focused on delivering on our caring mission and continuing our efforts to foster a culture of collaboration with all our employees.