Hospitals Duel Over ER Care In Arkansas

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Mar. 24, 2008 12:00 am  

Lynn Weaks, CEO of Arkansas Surgical Hospital, said the hospital meets all the regulatory requirements by having registered nurses on-site 24 hours a day, and doctors are on call if they're not at the hospital.

Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock has an emergency room, but the Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services ambulance service took no emergency patients to it last year.

MEMS did, however, make seven emergency runs from Arkansas Surgical Hospital to other area hospitals in 2007, according to its executive director.

While the Surgical Hospital meets all regulatory requirements, its record underscores the findings of a recent federal government report: A majority of physician-owned specialty hospitals don't have doctors on site at all times.

The report has added fuel to the long-running battle between physician-owned specialty hospitals and full-service hospitals, also referred to as community hospitals.

The report by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health & Human Services said only 55 percent of the nearly 110 physician-owned specialty hospitals it studied had emergency departments. And of those hospitals that had an emergency department, 58 percent had only one emergency bed.

"Most notably, 34 percent of hospitals use 9-1-1 to obtain medical assistance to stabilize a patient, a practice that may violate Medicare requirements," the report said. "Almost half of all hospitals (46 percent) use 9-1-1 to transfer patients, a practice that is permitted by Medicare."

The report didn't sit well with critics of physician-owned specialty hospitals. "Patients and consumers deserve to know what they're getting into with specialty hospitals," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in a January news release. "Most people assume that if it's called a hospital, it can handle emergencies, but this data shows that's not the case. More broadly, it's fair to ask whether taxpayers should continue to support erosion of community hospitals."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also was shocked by the report and said in a statement that Medicare money for hospitalization shouldn't be used on facilities that most people wouldn't even call a hospital.

Lynn Weaks, CEO of Arkansas Surgical Hospital, said the hospital meets all regulatory requirements by having registered nurses on-site 24 hours a day, and doctors are on call even if they aren't at the hospital.

"We just don't meet but we exceed the expectations that are set," Weaks said. And he said all the nurses on the staff are certified with advance cardiac life-support training.

"Every nurse has been trained to individually be the lead in resuscitation efforts," Weaks said. "That is different in what you'll find in other hospitals. So we're staffed, and we're staffed very well."

The seven Surgical Hospital patients who needed emergency transfers to other hospitals last year had complications from surgeries and were stable before they left, said Surgical Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Judy Jones.

 

 

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