Angelica Montanari and daughter Makena, 1, outside of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Everett-Central Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Angelica Montanari and daughter Makena, 1, outside of the Community Health Center of Snohomish County Everett-Central Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Providers at Community Health Center of Snohomish County vote to form a union

Providers expressed hope for improving patient care and making their voices heard with management.

EVERETT — About three dozen doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at Community Health Center of Snohomish County voted overwhelmingly Thursday to join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists.

“I’m feeling excited,” said Dr. Suzanne Powell, who has worked at the health center for nearly eight years. “I’m glad to see that a lot of people voted, and that we had a really strong showing of support.”

The vote was 25-9.

Powell said she’d like to return to a more “harmonious” relationship between providers and administrators. She also wants to improve communication with management and the board.

And she hopes that providers will not be so afraid of speaking out about what they see as problems in the workplace.

“I’m hoping that we can change our contracts so that it essentially doesn’t state that we can be fired at will,” Powell said.

Nearly 90% of patients at the federally qualified health center fall under the federal poverty level.

In an unsigned email, CHC provided this statement Thursday afternoon:

“CHC of Snohomish County remains committed to providing our diverse community with access to high quality, affordable primary health care. CHC’s employees are committed to that same mission. Together, CHC and its employees, are committed to maintaining a workplace of respect and one that recognizes every individual’s contribution. Today’s vote does not change those commitments and we look forward to continuing to work with our employees to achieve our common mission and goals.”

On March 17, providers and patients from CHC spoke about working conditions and patient care to local elected officials at the Everett Labor Temple.

County Council member Megan Dunn — who also chairs the county board of health — said providers didn’t talk about wages, but rather about having a voice in management decisions.

“It was all about how to provide better care for the patients,” she said Thursday night.

Dunn said the county’s human service providers send a lot of patients to the clinic. She expressed hope that with a union, providers could help to address some of the frustrations she heard from patients about long wait times to get appointments and test results. “By forming a union, they’ll have direct input on their working conditions to really address the concerns that were raised.”

Stuart Bussey, president of the union, wrote: “When providers stick together, great things can happen. This is a victory for patient care in Snohomish County.”

Powell expressed cautious optimism about the near future.

“For I think all of us, this was about patient access and care. And I mean, ultimately, that’s what I really hope we can improve,” she said. “It’s going to be tough, because we’re down a lot of providers, but my understanding is having a union can be a positive for applicants.”

Joy Borkholder: 425-339-3430; joy.borkholder@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jlbinvestigates.

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