1199 Hosts First Ever Forum for FQHC Members Who Provide Quality Healthcare to Under-served Communities

August 7, 2018

At 1199SEIU we’re always looking for new ways to protect and extend members’ rights as the healthcare landscape continues to change, sometimes putting our hard-won job security and benefits at risk.

Policy-makers at the national level are increasingly recognizing the benefits of community-based primary health care in promoting better patient outcomes. At the local level, that primary care is often delivered in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs).

In addition to long-standing 1199 facilities, non-unionized workers at FQHCs at Morris Heights in the Bronx, Northwell Imaging on Long Island, Whittier Street in Boston, Massachusetts and Chase Brexton, in Baltimore, Maryland have recently come together to form a union with 1199SEIU. In recognition of our growing membership in this sector, and its increasing importance to delivering quality healthcare, 1199 hosted its first ever FQHC forum in July. It gave our members, old and new, a chance to exchange experiences, discuss the challenges they face, and most importantly, to create a digital network to keep the conversation alive.

Wendy Stark, the Executive Director at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in Manhattan reviewed the history of the FQHC movement, which dates back to the 1960s, when there was a national effort to bring holistic health care to underserved communities right on their doorstep.

Nowadays, one-in-19 Americans receives healthcare at an FQHC. But only 7 cents of every healthcare dollar goes to community-oriented primary care.

Mark Levine, who chairs the Health Committee on New York City Council, reminded the group that community-based healthcare saves lives. With the immigrant population under assault, FQHCs can often provide a safe haven to undocumented people who are being denied care elsewhere, he added.

Kirk Adams, the Executive Director of the Healthcare Education Project, a community-based advocacy organization, explained the importance of 1199ers taking political action to preserve and extend funding for vital healthcare services in local communities. “If you’re not at the table, you’re liable to be on the menu,”, he warned.

A panel of 1199 members at FQHCs involved in current contract battles and recent organizing victories, shared their union-building communications techniques with the group. Some activists used memes to generate interest, others used the closed messaging platform, Slack, to share newspaper articles highlighting their community protests.

Looking towards the future, LaRay Brown, the CEO of One Brooklyn Health, which brought together the former Interfaith, Brookdale and Kingsbrook Jewish hospitals into one system, explained that New York State was: “Trying to transform how and where hospital services are delivered. We need to invest in existing staff to give them the skills they need to do jobs of the future.”

Not only are new FQHCs set to provide fresh opportunities for 1199 members, but the size of 1199’s footprint means that existing community-based centers can offer union jobs too.

Christopher Roe, is a Medical Records Clerk at the Anthony Jordan Health Center in Rochester, New York, shared what fueled his recent involvement with the union. He said: “I’m a typically quiet person. But when management tried to eliminate my job because my supervisor did not like me, the union saved my job. After what happened to me, I have been very active in 1199 to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to anybody else.”