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.

In Arkansas, the battle was highlighted when a group of doctors sued Baptist Health in 2004 and accused the hospital system of canceling their privileges in an attempt to limit competition.

The six doctors were partners in the Little Rock Cardiology Clinic P.A. The doctors sued Baptist Health after the hospital's board of directors adopted a policy in 2003 that began using economic criteria as the basis for granting medical staff privileges at the state's largest hospital.

Baptist Health wouldn't comment on the lawsuit at the time, but said specialty hospitals were financially hurting community hospitals.

That trial started in Pulaski County Circuit Court on March 10 and was still going on last week.

Emergency Cases

The physician-owned specialty hospital model came under fire again in 2007 after a death of a patient who had been at a specialty hospital in Texas. In that case and another in Oregon, the patients had complications after elective surgery. Neither hospital had a physician on duty at the time, and nurses called 911 for help. The ambulance companies rushed the patients to the community hospitals, where they died.

Critics of the physician-owned specialty hospitals jumped on the news of the deaths.

"We're concerned about any hospital that relies on dialing 911 to rush a failing patient to a community hospital," Sens. Baucus and Grassley said in a joint news release.

The deaths also resulted in the study from the Office of the Inspector General.

That report came under criticism from supporters of specialty hospitals because of its conclusions.

"From start to finish, this report had a preordained conclusion," said Robert James Cimasi, the president of Health Capital Consultants of St. Louis. "It was a smear job. The number of people killed in hospitals because of medical error and the lack of response to emergency care is the largest cause of death in America.

"And to pick out and focus on these very high quality, specialty hospitals and try to infer and insinuate some sort of  ... connection because some of them don't have emergency rooms  there's no statistical validity to this report."

Many hospitals in rural Arkansas don't have emergency rooms staffed by doctors 24 hours a day, said Nate Miller, the CEO of the physician-owned Surgical Hospital of Jonesboro, in an e-mail statement to Arkansas Business.



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