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Hospital physicians seek to unionize amid pandemic turmoil

SANTA FE – Physicians at Rehoboth McKinley Christian hospital in Gallup have taken the first major step toward unionizing to pursue collective bargaining on employment provisions, hospital staff and a union official said Tuesday.

The majority of roughly 30 physicians at the hospital have signed and submitted union authorization cards to the National Labor Relations Board, said Sue Wilson, spokeswoman of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists. A vote on unionization could still be required by the hospital operator, she said.

The push to unionize follows both financial turmoil and harrowing encounters with COVID-19 at the hospital in the trading post city of Gallup on the edge of the Navajo Nation.

Physicians are concerned about the hospital's financial standing and whether it can sustain a high standard of care for patients amid recent layoffs, said Mary Poel, a pediatrician at Rehoboth McKinley Christian.

“I know that rural hospitals have to cut right now any frivolous things from their budgets because of COVID and getting back on our feet,” she said. “We want to be sure that we have enough providers so that patients get the care they need. It really doesn't have anything to do with compensation levels at this time.”

Hospital spokeswoman Ina Burmeister said notice of union organization was received late Tuesday and is being evaluated.

Plano, Texas-based Community Hospital Corporation in May announced a three-year contract extension to operate the 60-bed hospital.

The county-owned facility serves a community that was pummeled by early waves of the pandemic. In May 2020, Gallup was closed to outside visitors and encircled by police barricades by order of the governor in a desperate effort to limit the spread of the virus.