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Catholic Health outsources transcription work at 4 hospitals

Catholic Health System is outsourcing the duties done by the medical transcriptionists at its four hospitals, a move that forces 50 workers to find new jobs likely to pay less within the system or with the transcription contractor.

System administrators informed the clerical workers in November that they planned to hire a Massachusetts company, Nuance Transcription Services, to handle the work now performed locally.

The workers, who edit or type up recorded notes made by physicians after they meet with patients, all were offered jobs by Nuance or Catholic Health. But the transcriptionists say the system went months without updating them on what’s happening and officials haven’t offered them desirable replacement positions.

“They’re not respecting what they’ve always taught us, the core values,” said Marie Bolt, a transcriptionist at Mercy with 24 years in Catholic Health. “It’s a cost-saving measure and, as I said, it’s a business. Although I may not agree with it, I understand. It’s just, take care of us before you ditch us.”

Catholic Health said it is doing everything it can to find alternative employment for the transcriptionists. System officials said they are hiring Nuance, an Internet-based provider of medical transcription services, to boost efficiency and to avoid a costly upgrade to their own transcription system.

Catholic Health joins numerous hospital systems locally and nationally in outsourcing transcription work to a third party. Roswell Park Cancer Institute contracted out nearly all of its transcription work nearly 15 years ago. Kaleida Health, which began outsourcing transcription services in the late 1990s, and Erie County Medical Center also contract with Nuance.

“This difficult decision is in no way a reflection of the dedication of our associates or the quality of their work,” Catholic Health said in a statement to The News.

Catholic Health employs 50 transcriptionists at Sisters of Charity Hospital, Mercy Hospital, Kenmore Mercy Hospital and Sisters’ St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga.

Mercy Hospital, for example, has 21 who primarily work from home. Most doctors at Mercy dictate notes on consults, physicals and other appointments with patients into a digital recorder, and voice-recognition software translates the audio files into text. The transcriptionists make sure the entry doesn’t contain errors before it becomes a part of the patient record, and they type up entries for the minority of doctors who don’t speak their notes into a recorder.

Bolt, who works part-time, four days a week, came over to Mercy Hospital after Catholic Health closed Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Lackawanna. Some women in her department have more than 30 years of experience, and they include single mothers, parents putting children through college and grandmothers raising grandchildren, Bolt said.

The workers learned in November, two days before Thanksgiving, that Catholic Health planned to contract with Nuance. But it wasn’t until February that they received more details from Catholic Health and transcriptionist job offers from Nuance.

None of the Mercy Hospital transcriptionists took the Nuance positions, because the pay, benefits and job provisions aren’t as favorable as they would be if they stayed with Catholic Health, said Deborah Arnet, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1133, which represents the Mercy transcriptionists.

They are exercising their contractual right to “bump” less-senior workers in positions at a comparable grade and pay. It’s a slow-moving process that began, according to Bolt, with Catholic Health offering each of the most senior transcriptionists a groundskeeper position they don’t believe they’re able to perform. A similarly lengthy process is beginning to play out at St. Joseph’s, where the eight transcriptionists are represented by CWA Local 1168. The workers at the other two hospitals are non-union.