Family Doctor Shortage Will Hurt Rural Areas

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Jun. 9, 2008 12:00 am  

The hospital turned to Merritt Hawkins & Associates for help.

Fritts said the hospital spent between $40,000 and $50,000 for a one-year contract for the firm to search for a doctor.

"For a little rural hospital, that was an astronomical amount of money," Fritts said.

For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2006, the hospital reported $2.5 million in patient revenue - the lowest in Arkansas that year - and a net loss of $420,000. For the previous year, the hospital had $2.7 million in revenue, also the lowest amount in Arkansas, and reported a loss of $136,000.

The hospital hired Dr. Lonnie Joseph Parker, who was convicted by a federal jury in 2000 of possession of child pornography, because he was the only doctor willing to move to Murfreesboro.

In court filings, Parker said he had a legal justification to have the images. Parker maintains he was working with government officials to help catch the perpetrator. His medical license was revoked in 2002 but restored in 2005.

Fritts said she investigated Parkers' case and "I will defend him."

But the hospital's board decided to withdraw Parker's contract.

Losing Parker was "a blow to us because if we had gotten that doctor in here at that point in time, he would have been aggressive," Fritts said. "He was knowledgeable, very, very knowledgeable."

Instead of Parker, the hospital found Dr. Richard Plant, 74, who started in April.

"We definitely need one more [doctor] pretty quickly," Fritts said. "We're not actively looking because we don't have the resources."

Recruiting a doctor could cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars, because sometimes the hospital will pay the first or second year's salary for the doctor, said Phillip Miller, a spokesman for Merritt Hawkins.

But each doctor generates on average $1.5 million a year for the hospital.

"It's a good investment," Miller said, "provided you're successful at it."  



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