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UPMC Medical Transcriptionists Protest Payment Structure Changes

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is once again facing the ire of some of its employees, but this time it has nothing to do with alleged union-busting tactics at the healthcare giant.

About 50 people gathered Wednesday outside the Steel Building where UPMC has its corporate offices to protest the outsourcing of the medical transcription department to a Massachusetts company called Nuance.

Prior to the change in July, roughly 130 medical transcriptionists worked for UPMC making anywhere from $12-22/hour.

Gloria Kreps, Director of Media Relations for UPMC, said in a written statement that new voice recognition technologies greatly decreased the need for medical transcriptionists.

“In an effort to provide a longer term employment opportunity for these staff, UPMC elected to outsource the transcription function to Nuance, which employs thousands of transcriptionists, and arranged for Nuance to offer employment to the UPMC transcriptionists,” said the statement.

Nuance did indeed offer all the medical transcriptionists a job, with one change: they would not be paid by the hour, but instead for each line of text they typed. UPMC and Nuance worked out a deal to pay the transcriptionists at their old hourly rate for three months. This month, the transcriptionists received their first paychecks based on the new pay structure. Depending on the complexity of the transcription, they were paid either four or eight cents per line.

Cindy Cromie worked as a transcriptionist at UPMC for more than 20 years, and she said she will not be able to pay her bills on her new wages, which are roughly a third of what she was previously making.

“When I got my first paycheck in the middle of this month, I made so little that Nuance had to add $26 to my paycheck to bring me up to minimum wage,” said Cromie.

Diana Borland has quit her job as a medical transcriptionist at Nuance, saying she no longer feels like she is getting an honest day’s pay for her honest day’s work. She said she feels like she “can’t go fast enough.”

“Since Nuance only pays pennies for line, for me to go back to a $17/hour salary I was making at UPMC, I would have to type over 3,000 lines a day to meet that income,” said Borland.

Ed Ehrhardt, of the group Mon Valley Unemployed Legal Counsel, said though his organization does not represent the transcriptionists, he has concerns about the new pay-by-line system.

“A line by line payment system necessarily promotes speed and haste, speed and haste promotes errors, errors promote miscommunication, and miscommunication could doom the next patient,” said Ehrhardt.

He also said that he believes the workers should be eligible for unemployment benefits, because the change in the pay structure would qualify as a “necessitous and compelling reason for a voluntary resignation” under current case law precedent.

Pastor Eric McIntosh, of St. James Episcopal Church Penn Hills, had a moral, rather than a legal take on the matter.

He said the plight of the medical transcriptionists “hits us at the core of our moral centers. It is not right, it insults our emotions and our intellect, our spirits and our souls.”