3 ways union organization attempts hurt hospitals and threaten patient safety

Hospitals and health systems targeted for union organization suffer the consequences in lower patient and employee satisfaction , as well as higher readmission rates.

Union activity is on the rise in the healthcare industry, especially after a May National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling streamlining the elections process. Since the NLRB ruling, union petitions are up 10 percent for all industries, according to a report from IRI Consultants. And 77 percent of healthcare union elections are successful, it found, compared to 60 percent in other industries.

The trend toward unionization, and union actions in general, are hurting providers in three big ways: 

  1. Patient satisfaction. Hospitals that experienced union elections--whether or not the effort to organize was a success--had lower Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores than those that did not. In 2013, hospitals with union elections had an average HCAHPS score of 2.54 out of 5 compared to a 2.61 score for those that did not. 
  2. Readmission rates. In addition, hospitals and health systems that had an NLRB election in 2013 reported readmission rates that were on average 2 percent higher than those that had not. The numbers held true across all regions and sizes and types of facilities. 
  3. Employee engagement. Finally, employee survey results found significant differences across all elements of the work environment, and employee engagement and satisfaction. Overall, employees in unionized organizations reported significantly higher negative views of their workplace. 

Hospital leaders seeking to prevent union organization--and mitigate these three stressors on quality care--should engage employees and make sure they are satisfied. 

"There's always a triggering incident," IRI President Jim Trivisonno told Healthcare Finance News. "People don't vote for a union because of wages and benefits. They vote for a union because of dignity and respect or lack thereof."

In addition to gauging employee satisfaction, leaders should make sure to maintain active problem-resolution protocols, such as peer review initiatives, as well as training frontline supervisors to give employees all the information and resources they need, according to the article.

To learn more:
- here's the IRI report (.pdf)
- read the Healthcare Finance News article