CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — Doctors and dentists working for Contra Costa County say they are understaffed, overworked and underpaid. Their union has been working without a contract for more than four months. Now, its membership has authorized a strike if state mediation fails.

Contract negotiations resume next with state mediation between the union, the Physicians and Dentists Organization of Contra Costa and Contra Costa Health. Union President Dr. David MacDonald says right now, the two sides are far apart on compensation and workloads.

“We had a vote of our membership and 99.4% of our members voted in favor of strike,” MacDonald said.

He says as his union works into its fifth month without a contract, health services has a 29% vacancy rate in employed positions in primary and ambulatory care, family and adult medicine.

“Our emergency department, which is about half of that department, is vacant with respect to the employed long-term ER docs that we have. They are so far under market,” MacDonald said.

Due to an agreement between the county and state, Macdonald says primary care physicians, already overloaded with patients, will take on more next year when the county takes in 30,000 new patients receiving Medi-Cal.

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“A lot of our PCP’s (primary care physicians) take that work home with them and are up late at night trying to address their in-basket that’s just with never-ending messages and duties or responsibilities,” MacDonald said.

In a statement, Contra Costa Health said in part:

“Health systems across the country are struggling to recruit and retain medical staff at all levels.
Contra costa health is no different. It’s important to note that a physician vacancy does not mean that there is a clinical vacancy, nor that care is compromised. We are confident that the right provider is caring for the right patient in the right way at contra costa regional medical center and health centers every day.”