National Children's Doctors rally against working conditions amid RSV outbreak

National Children’s Doctors rally against working conditions amid RSV outbreak


Hannah Kilcoyne, a first-year resident at Children’s National Hospital, recently started a 14-hour night shift with a daunting challenge: spending as much time as possible with newly admitted patients, writing treatment plans for each , answer an anxious father’s questions about his sick child and maintain his humanity.

She made everything work but felt fried. She was convinced that better working conditions – higher salaries, a flexible mental health fund and a patient cap – would make her a better doctor.

Kilcoyne, 28, was among dozens of residents and their supporters who rallied Tuesday night outside DC’s Northwest National Children’s Hospital to demand these and other benefits as union negotiations continue with the Top 5 children’s hospitals. Residents stood in makeshift tents in the pouring rain opposite the hospital as ambulances screamed, carrying signs reading “I’m tired”, “Children deserve healthy doctors” and “Fair contract= well-being of physicians,” highlighting the challenges providers face as respiratory disease stresses the healthcare system.

Doctors exhausted in the third year of a pandemic marked by chronic staffing shortages are now facing a national spike in RSV during flu season, with the coronavirus still circulating – and juggling more patients as the demand for a decreasing number of pediatric intensive care beds exceeds capacity.

DC-area children’s hospitals are at capacity

“I felt like I had to choose what I wanted to do, and it’s not fair to these families,” Kilcoyne said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s not the kind of doctor I want to be…I want to be able to do anything.”

At Children’s National and hospitals across the country, residents — doctors who have completed medical school and are undergoing specialty training for at least three years — say they need help coping with the demands of the job.

They are seeking a contract that offers higher salaries, guaranteed mental health benefits outside of the hospital and a binding contractual cap on the number of patients they can treat at any given time, which residents say can go from about 10 to 14 or more, depending on the shift. Doctors generally see more patients at night and on weekends because there are fewer staff working.

In a statement, officials at Children’s National Hospital declined to discuss details of the negotiations, which the union said have been going on since April. Hospital officials thanked residents for their hard work in managing – along with other hospital workers – a significant increase in emergency room visits and admissions.

“Children’s hospitals across the country are managing record increases in patients while managing healthcare worker shortages. We are also seeing some hospitals closing pediatric inpatient beds and even closing pediatric intensive care beds, which puts even more pressure on children’s hospitals,” hospital spokeswoman Diana Troese said. in a press release.

“We remain hopeful that this surge in respiratory infections will return to historic levels, which would reduce some pressure on our teams.”

CDC warns of a tough winter as flu, RSV and covid collide

Children’s National residents belong to the Trainee and Resident Committee, which is an arm of the Service Employees International Union and represents 22,000 medical residents and fellows nationwide.

The DC rally, which organizers called Unity Break, although only furloughed doctors participated, is part of a week of protests in eight cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, in support of contract negotiations. The events come at a time of growth for the resident-physician union; a record 3,000 residents joined in a year, according to a CIR statement.

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, residents voted to authorize a strike — the first such vote in 30 years, according to the union — before reaching an agreement last month with management. Residents of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx announced their intention to unionize this month.

CIR officials said after the coronavirus exposed structural inequities in health care and clinical training, “medicine should not continue its exploitative, traumatic and inequitable training culture.”

Healthcare workers say they are exhausted from working full throttle due to covid and now RSV and wonder what crisis awaits them next.

Liz Taliaferro, 30, a Brown University medical school graduate who uses the pronouns they/them, said she realized during her third year of residency at Children’s National that residents are the workhorses of a hospital.

RSV, covid and flu keep kids out of school and parents out of work

“What that means is that when the hospital is stretched, the residents are also stretched,” Taliaferro said.

Residents have described long shifts that often exceed 12 hours and tend to more patients than they have time for, which they say leaves them too exhausted to do anything but work and sleep. – a recipe for poor mental health.

“I have personally experienced and seen our residents here stretch to and beyond their emotional and physical limits,” Taliaferro said at the rally. “If you want kids to be well, you need their doctors to be well.”

Amber Shelton, 27, a first-year resident at Children’s National with her family in Prince George’s County, entered medical school to work with the whole family unit. When time is of the essence, she says, it’s impossible to explore possible genetic, environmental or autoimmune causes for a child’s condition.

Shelton, a graduate of Temple University Medical School, said doctors want to provide the best care.

“We want to operate at the level of a Top 5 children’s hospital,” she said. “We just need help doing this.”

The group’s membership increased on Tuesday evening as residents finished their shifts. Holding umbrellas, they crossed the street and joined the protest.

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