Contract Dispute Between Palomar Medical Center, Surgeons Prompts Trauma Center Closure
A contract dispute between a group of surgeons and Palomar Medical Center in San Diego County has forced the hospital to close its trauma center for the past eight days, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. After the contract between the surgical specialists and Palomar expired last month, most specialists agreed to treat patients without an agreement, but a group of orthopedic surgeons has "refused to show up for duty," which forced the closure. Dr. Paul Milling, a spokesperson for the orthopedic surgeons, outlined several reasons for the contract dispute, including:
- Palomar administrators have sought the right to void contracts with physicians who "said anything that would jeopardize the hospital's reputation," which Milling criticized as a "gag order" that would violate their right to free speech. Palomar spokesperson Tamara Hemmerly denied the allegation.
- The orthopedic surgeons have asked the hospital to pay any $50,000 fine levied by the federal government "if a surgeon did not show up on time, resulting in a patient being diverted" and to pay malpractice insurance premiums for emergency room and trauma care for the doctors, costs that Hemmerly said "normally are paid by physicians."
- The surgeons have asked Palomar to provide a clinic where patients could receive "follow-up care, so that the doctors would not have to provide office care for emergency patients," who may not have health insurance. Hemmerly said that the hospital has discussed the proposal.
- The orthopedic surgeons also have criticized the daily stipend that the hospital pays them for being on emergency call as "too low." Milling said that duty in the trauma center "means surgeons can't schedule regular patients, so they end up working practically for free if patients are uninsured." Hemmerly said that Palomar has offered the surgeons a $2,700 daily stipend from Friday to Sunday and a $1,900 daily stipend from Monday to Thursday, amounts that she called the "highest in the county."
The trauma center at Palomar treats between 800 to 1,000 patients per year and has diverted about 13 patients since Dec. 31. However, the delays in care "did not adversely affect the treatment of any patient," Gwen Jones, head of the San Diego County Emergency Medical Services Program, which administers the county's six-hospital trauma system, said. Hospital officials were set to provide another contract offer to the surgeons this morning, Hemmerly said (Clark, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/8).
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