STANISLAUS COUNTY: Doctors Medical Center in Dispute Over Payments
California state health officials are investigating Stanislaus County's refusal to pay for indigent and uninsured patients who visited the emergency room at Doctors Medical Center, the Modesto Bee reports. According to county officials, Doctors Medical Center assumed the responsibility to care for the county's poor when the for-profit facility took over the county-operated hospital almost three years ago. Dr. Myles Riner submitted a complaint on behalf of California Emergency Physicians, which staffs the hospital's ER, alleging that care has worsened since the for-profit, Tenet-owned hospital cut staffing hours. Riner's data reveals a 33% coverage drop since the ownership switch, while emergency room visits increased from about 37,000 in 1997 to 50,000 last year. The issue "came to light" when California Emergency Physicians asked county supervisors to pay more than $300,000 in bills unpaid by patients. The county maintains that Doctors Medical Center assumed responsibility for indigent care when it contracted to run the hospital. Other counties have been plagued by complaints after closing county hospitals, but the Stanislaus County "conflict is the first of its kind in California," George Abbot, a division chief with the state Department of Health, said, adding, "We'll sit down and take a look at the complaint and what the county's response is." According to David Jones, public information officer for the county Health Services Agency, the county plans to comply with the April 24 response deadline (Stapley, 4/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.