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Dissatisfied, HRMC once more on the hunt for ER docs

Haywood Regional Medical Center will terminate its contract with the corporate physician staffing outfit that supplies doctors for the hospital’s emergency department, according to hospital CEO Mike Poore.

“What we are trying to do is improve our overall emergency department,” Poore said. “What we’ve seen is that there are companies that can help us with the processes to improve our service and quality and efficiency. We are working on terminating the current contract.”

Phoenix Emergency Physicians, the current staffing company, was hired just two years ago to replace Haywood Emergency Physicians, a long-time group of local doctors. The local group was pushed out by former CEO David Rice over what largely boiled down to a power struggle. The Haywood doctors resisted Rice’s attempts to exert more control over the ER, perceiving those efforts as a loss of autonomy that would interfere in patient care decisions.

Some ER doctors had also raised red flags about Rice’s management of the hospital and challenged his command-and-control style leadership, an early harbinger of problems that later came to fruition.

While the medical community and community at large went to bat for the group of local doctors, urging Rice and the hospital board to keep them, their contract was yanked and the hospital board voted to bring in Phoenix.

Former hospital CEO David Rice pledged that Phoenix would improve patient wait times and coverage in the ER.

However, Phoenix has not met those expectations. The company has staffed the ER with fewer doctors working fewer hours. Today, Poore said a core of six doctors oversees the emergency department at HRMC as opposed to the core of 10 provided by the former group. Only three are listed on the web site.

Long wait times in the ER have persisted months after the hospital restored its Medicare and Medicaid certification status and returned to full staffing levels.

“We’re not satisfied with our wait times,” Poore said.

However, Poore said simply adding more doctors won’t in itself improve care and wait times in the emergency department. He cited effective management, knowledge, and customer service as other crucial factors for a successful ER.

“You don’t always throw numbers at it to solve the problem,” he said. “The goal is really more on efficiency. If it takes more doctors, then yes, but it’s the process flow; and having the experience and know-how to improve quality.”

The hospital will likely replace Phoenix with another corporate staffing outfit rather than bring operations in house.

“That’s really the trend in the United States — there are these large companies that manage physicians,” Poore said. He said the hospital is currently vetting five different companies to replace Phoenix and hopes to have a new group in place by April 1.

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