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UCLA Health reneges on announced $5,000 housing stipend to resident physicians

UCLA Health told UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine residents they would receive a $5,000 housing stipend after tax. When the residents and fellows received their stipends Aug. 31 as part of their September paycheck, they noticed it was hundreds of dollars short.(Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)

By Armando Carrillo

Oct. 3, 2018 1:40 a.m.

Medical residents at UCLA said they received only a fraction of a $5,000 housing stipend that the David Geffen School of Medicine promised them.

The David Geffen School of Medicine sent an email to residents and fellows in February announcing its first housing stipend, which was supposed to be $5,000 after taxes.

Program directors at UCLA Health planned to share this information with prospective residents, according to the email. Medical residents, or physicians in training, work at the hospital under the supervision of a practicing doctor.

The UCLA Health website continues to advertise the $5,000 after-tax stipend to residents of the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital as of this article’s publication.

Marguerite Thorp, a resident physician at UCLA Health, said rumors the housing stipend was not going to be as large as expected circulated around the hospital as soon as employees were able to check their pay stubs online, a few days prior to payday.

UCLA Health administration informed residents one day before paycheck distribution that the “take home” amount could be less than $5,000, according to an email medical school administration sent in August.

Administration had budgeted $6,250 for each person in an attempt to offset taxes, according to the August email.

However, when the residents and fellows received their stipends Aug. 31 as part of their September paycheck, they noticed it was hundreds of dollars short.

For example, Thorp said she and most of the residents she talked to received $3,800 after taxes as the take-home amount for the housing stipend.

The contract Geffen School of Medicine residents must agree to does not contain any provisions regarding their housing stipends, which could prevent residents from filing an official grievance since their stipend amount was communicated via email.

Tami Dennis, a UCLA Health spokesperson, said the UCLA administration is looking into the matter but currently cannot access financial records given the implementation of UCPath, UCLA’s new payroll system.

“We have had an inquiry from the union representing these employees and we are looking into the request,” Dennis said.

Residents and fellows at Geffen School of Medicine are represented by the Committee of Interns and Residents, a union that represents more than 1,500 residents around the country. The UCLA unit of CIR was certified in July due to a grassroots campaign by UCLA’s medical residents.

Thorp said residents and fellows formed the union in order to have a say in their contract. Before this, residents had to agree to terms of employment rather than participate in a negotiated contract.

Peter Treut, a UCLA Emergency Medicine resident, said he was an applicant when the information was being distributed and said he remembers hearing about the stipend from others. He added that some applicants received an email from their program directors providing this information.

However, Treut said he thinks the administration was not able to honor their commitment due to a financial miscalculation.

“There doesn’t appear to have been any ill intent,” Treut said. “I’m hopeful that once (Graduate Medical Education) has had the time to review numbers thoroughly they will rectify the mistake.”

Treut added the housing stipend was a result of residents and administration coming together to advocate for resident well-being given that financial stress and general working conditions for doctors can affect patient care.

UC San Francisco offers its residents $12,100 to offset the cost of housing and UC San Diego offers $5,000, according to their respective websites.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Danielle Smith said the housing stipend that UCLA Health offers is less than what is offered by UCSF Medical Center because UCSF is located in a more expensive housing market.

“Housing stipends, when available, are negotiated based on the local housing market for each medical school,” Smith said.

According to Curbed LA, Westwood has a median rent of $2,650, making it one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

In addition to the high cost of living in Westwood, Thorp added she has a lot of credit card debt from medical school and took out interest-free credit cards to pay off some of that debt. She said she was planning on using the $5,000 to pay off her credit card debt but is now unable to do so.

“I am now accumulating interest on credit card debt that I wasn’t planning to accumulate,” Thorp said. “I think everyone suffers a little bit when things are unpredictable.”

Administration officials encouraged residents in the August email to consult tax advisers about how to reduce their tax burdens and maximize their paychecks. Thorp said it is not feasible for her to consult a tax adviser because, like her colleagues, she has limited funds and has worked an average of 62 hours per week in the last month.

Thorp said she thinks UCLA Health administrators, especially in the Graduate Medical Education Office, are supportive and genuinely want the best for their residents. However, she added she thinks administrators can only do so much.

“Their hands are tied,” Thorp said. “They can only mobilize so many funds for us and they’re limited to these ad hoc one-off housing stipends when they can find the money to get together.”

Geffen School of Medicine residents will have their first bargaining session with UCOP on Wednesday.

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Armando Carrillo
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