By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
Doctors in residence and fellows at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. are in the midst of a critical negotiation with their employer.
The doctors, represented by the Committee of Interns and Residents, recently held a Unity Break to call attention to their struggle to obtain a contract that allows them to sufficiently care for their young patients, while also nurturing their own mental health and well-being.
“Recently, across the country children’s hospitals are pretty swamped. Children’s National is no exception. In terms of being filled beyond capacity and the amount of providers that exist– but also nurses and techs and all of the other healthcare workers –there’s a national healthcare shortage,” said Dr. Liz Taliaferro, resident physician at Children’s National Hospital.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, children remained at home, and hospitals saw respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) rates drop. This year, however, RSV came earlier, and hospitals are seeing higher numbers of RSV infection, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Taliaferro, a third year resident of the Pediatric Residency Program at Children’s National Hospital, has witnessed the stress this surge has caused in their co-residents.
Although the hospital includes patient caps in its residency program protocol, the limits are not codified in their contracts, and with the rise in patients, the caps are not always satisfied.
This forces residents to take on more strenuous patient loads, and sometimes call on their colleagues to come in to offset the strain.
Currently, Taliaferro said one doctor in residence is expected to care for 20 to 22 patients at a time on the Hematology and Oncology Service each night. In the NICU, one resident works overnight and can care for up to 36 babies.
Not only are the physicians undergoing the physical toll of working 60 to 80 hours a week and pulling 24-hour shifts, their mental health is also taking a hit.
“It’s that literal physical burden but then the emotional burden of wanting to provide kids and families with the care they deserve, no matter what that requires of you and no matter how stretched thin you are,” said Taliaferro. “Without opportunities to replenish yourself you continue to pour and pour until you’re pouring from an empty glass, and at that point, what happens?”
At this point, the Committee of Interns and Residents is asking Children’s National Hospital to pay a salary that keeps pace with rising inflation, incorporate patient caps in all residents’ contracts and institute a mental health package for residents.
Currently, the hospital does offer a few options for employees to access mental health treatment, including the Employee Assistance Program, but Taliaferro said most residents have to wait months for an appointment.
According to Taliaferro, the proposed mental health package would include a program that the hospital would pay into, so residents could be given the time to attend therapy and the funds to be able to afford it.
They said the program would cost the hospital 0.5 percent of a resident’s yearly salary. But, Children’s National Hospital has declined the proposal without presenting an alternative.
The Committee of Interns and Residents will meet with the hospital this week for a contract negotiation session.
“I’m just hopeful that the demonstration showed us as residents that we are stronger when we stand together and that there are a lot of us in this fight together,” said Taliaferro. “Then, hopefully, it can be a demonstration as well to the hospital that we are committed to making sure that the kids of D.C. get what they need by making sure that we can get what we need to provide them with excellent care.”
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