July 28, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – It’s no surprise that the men and women in the white lab coats have their hands full caring for their patients – but the head of the largest and oldest union in the country for doctors, says that physicians are now stepping up their advocacy, and fighting hard to help directly reshape the future of healthcare in the city.
“In the past, doctors were in control of healthcare,” says Dr. Frank Proscia, president, Doctors Council SEIU. “As time went on, however, insurers and hospital systems took over more control. But without doctors, you cannot have appropriate healthcare. Their input is valuable and needed – especially in this time of reform.”
Doctors Council SEIU members have already played vital roles in helping to secure paid sick leave legislation and the reopening of the labor and delivery department at North Central Bronx Hospital. They also continue to fight to safeguard medical staff in correctional facilities, immunization clinics, school-based health care programs – and to preserve safety net hospitals in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s not just the Affordable Care Act,” says Dr. Proscia, who became Doctors Council SEIU president in February. “There are reorganizations happening all throughout the hospital system and the private carriers. The ACA was just the initial legislation that started the ball rolling all over the place.”
That sea change of events has created tremendous turmoil, according to the Doctors Council SEIU chief, but also an opportunity for the medical community to get more involved in advocacy work.
“A lot of what’s going on this year has been fomenting for awhile amongst our members,” Dr. Proscia says. “We wanted to create an organization that the doctors themselves would see an intrinsic value in enhancing their careers – and providing exceptional clinical services to patients. We wanted to empower the doctors, along with the patients that they see, in the decision-making process as healthcare is reformed.”
Over the course of this year, doctors have stood alongside organized labor, community groups, the clergy and elected officials struggling to ensure the Health and Hospitals Corporation [HHC] gets the funding it needs to survive. Doctors Council SEIU members have also testified at City Council hearings and taken active roles at political rallies. They’ve even gone to subway stops to interact with the public on vital healthcare issues.
“Who better to advocate for patients than doctors themselves?” says Dr. Proscia. “We just want to educate the doctors that they have to move beyond just dealing with their own patients in their own clinical rooms. They need to deal with patient care and healthcare services on a more global floor. They have to deal with advocating to the elected officials and community groups, fighting for services that need to be restored or added upon.”
As it continues its immediate fight for public hospital funding, Doctors Council SEIU is also looking ahead to the future and the realization of universal healthcare.
“When you have insurers involved in healthcare there’s always a problem,” Dr. Proscia says. “As a union, at our last convention, we actually made a proposal, which was accepted by the International Union, that single-payer is the best option and the best goal.”
The doctor’s union maintains that health care is a basic human right, and strongly supports the single-payer bill introduced in the New York State Legislature by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried [D-75th District] and Senator Bill Perkins [D-30th District].
“It’s Medicare for all,” Dr. Proscia says. “You see the doctors you want to see, and get the care you deserve.”
Sometimes, busy doctors may not be as visible advocating for reforms due to their medical obligations, but Dr. Proscia says that there is no doubt that the members of Doctors Council SEIU are becoming more politically active.
“They’re 100 percent behind this,” the Doctors Council SEIU chief says. “What we’re doing with this new administration is at the doctor’s beck and call – this is what they’ve been telling us they wanted – and we are just providing what they want.”