Physicians to strike, citing inadequate PPE and no breaks

Clinicians at Indigo Urgent Care facilities say they’re denied N95 masks when testing for COVID-19.

MARYSVILLE — Clinicians at several local urgent care clinics say they’ve been barred from wearing N95 masks while testing patients for COVID-19 and were asked to work shifts of 12 hours or longer, seeing 40 to 50 patients, without required breaks.

Practitioners at Indigo Urgent Care facilities plan to strike Monday and Tuesday to demand more safety precautions and to try to persuade MultiCare, the care center’s parent company, to sign a contract with the groups’ union.

There are more than 20 Indigo Urgent Care clinics in the Puget Sound region, including three in Snohomish County.

Clinicians are required to wear disposable surgical masks and face shields, but they’re not allowed to wear N95 masks, said M.C. Nachtigal, a nurse practitioner at the Rainier Valley location. They also can’t bring their own masks from home.

Joe Crane, regional administrator for the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, attributes that to what MultiCare calls the “indigo experience.” It’s a policy that’s meant to make the facilities feel homey, and involved greeting patients at the door and offering them cups of coffee, Crane said.

“To avoid disturbing the brand, it’s still just surgical masks and disposable gowns,” he said.

Practitioners routinely examine patients’ throats, take swabs and ask patients to breathe deeply in enclosed examination rooms.

The clinics see around 70 patients per day. Recently, many come for COVID-19 testing, Nachtigal said.

There’s also no Plexiglas shields protecting office staff at the front desk, Nachtigal said.

“These are literally the essential of the essential people, and they literally don’t even have what I can go to Home Depot and buy,” Crane said. “It’s just wrong.”

In a statement to the Herald, MultiCare said it provides staff with appropriate personal protective equipment.

“We disagree with the union’s characterization that our urgent care team members do not have access to sufficient supplies of appropriate PPE,” it reads. “All our urgent care clinics have the appropriate PPE they need today to do their jobs safely.”

Clinic employees had safety concerns before the pandemic began, Crane said.

“The initial concerns were about provider fatigue,” Nachtigal said.

Staff often work 12-hour shifts without taking breaks when there’s a line of patients, she said. And lately, there have been more and more people visiting the clinics for COVID-19 testing.

Practitioners are required to see patients waiting in the lobby even after closing, Nachtigal said.

The physicians at Indigo Urgent Care clinics have been in the bargaining process with MultiCare for nearly two years, Crane said.

Since the pandemic hit, they’ve added COVID-19 safety issues to their list of grievances.

The strike is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @sanders_julia.

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