The American Medical Association's labor organization hit another bump in the road when its executive director abruptly resigned.
Robert Bernat, M.D., after one year as executive director of Physicians for Responsible Negotiation, left his job late last month, according to a recorded message on his private office telephone. AMA officials said Bernat's last day will be July 3.
Modern Healthcare disclosed the resignation in its June 27 Daily Dose electronic newsletter. Neither the AMA nor the PRN announced Bernat's departure.
Bernat was unavailable for comment. The AMA's press office did not provide any information on the departure of Bernat, an internist who also has a law degree.
Susan Adelman, M.D., a Detroit pediatric surgeon who is president of the PRN, said she could not comment on Bernat's departure because his contract doesn't expire until July 4. Adelman would say only that Bernat "wanted other opportunities."
The organization was formed in November 1999, amid considerable opposition from many AMA leaders and members, to provide collective-bargaining services for doctors in both the private and public sector.
Despite optimistic projections about the future of unionization in medicine, the labor group has thus far managed to organize only a single group of 38 doctors employed by the Wellness Plan, a Medicaid HMO in Detroit. And only 25 of those physicians have joined the PRN as core members.
At the same time, the labor group, housed in the AMA's headquarters in Chicago, has been kept afloat through at least $3 million in loans from the AMA.
The labor group, now forced to seek a new chief executive as it struggles with costs and searches for new members, recently decided to curtail its organizing efforts in the private sector in the wake of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court broadened the definition of supervisory personnel, making it difficult to organize private-sector physicians.
Adelman said the PRN will challenge that definition in a hearing involving the labor group's effort to be recognized as the bargaining unit for 21 New Jersey physicians employed by Concentra Health Services. She said a National Labor Relations Board hearing, scheduled for July 18, may help to clarify the precise definition of what constitutes a supervisor. If the PRN prevails, she said, the door may be open to resume the effort to organize private-sector physicians.
"That's what we're all waiting for," Adelman said.