Driver as Receptionist? Why Not?
Kern County union and management leaders work out innovative solution
Hundreds of Kaiser Permanente health plan members live in the rural communities of Kern County. Faced with driving yawning distances through winding, sometimes snow-covered mountain passes, many find it daunting to come to clinics for medical care. So in March 2012, KP leaders in the service area started to bring care to these members via a mobile health vehicle.
Great idea, right? But first, they had to figure out the details. How many providers and staff members could fit in the van? Who was going to do which tasks? Could medical office assistants collect co-payments and schedule appointments? Or would they be too tied up giving shots, checking HealthConnect for care gaps and performing other duties? And what would the van drivers do when they weren’t driving?
Rewriting the playbook
The old-fashioned playbook would call for the union to insist that KP hire a receptionist for the van and for the employer to exercise its prerogative to do whatever it wanted. But the Labor Management Partnership is strong in Kern County, so union and KP leaders worked out a solution that transforms care delivery and provides a model for how jobs of the future can be flexible, innovative and satisfying. On Kern’s two mobile health vans, the drivers take on reception tasks, such as collecting co-payments and booking appointments.
“I love member service,” says driver Alfredo Alvarez, a UFCW Local 770 member. “We are in contact with doctors, nurses and members.” He and fellow driver Javier Gonzalez spent several weeks receiving additional training in clinics and a call center. “I am getting paid, so why not stay busy and learn new things?” says Alvarez. Today, the clinic on wheels provides more than 500 doctor and nurse visits a month.
Keeping up with change
Holly Davenport, a UFCW Local 770 union representative who helped negotiate the innovative work agreement, says she sometimes hears resistance from union activists who wonder if this type of arrangement will lead to job losses. “We have to keep up with the way health care is changing,” says Davenport. “We did this in partnership. I heard what management had to say, they heard what I had to say, and we worked it out.”
Davenport gives credit for the successful solution to her strong, trust-based relationship with Candace Kielty, an assistant medical group administrator in Kern. Says Kielty: “My role as a manager is to paint the big picture. We want to serve an underserved population, and we want to meet people where they are.”
However, Kielty says creative problem solving cannot rely solely on individual relationships, but must be built into the structure and culture of Kaiser Permanente through the Labor Management Partnership.
“When I hire department administrators, in the orientation and mentoring, I talk about developing trust,” says Kielty. “It's an expectation.”