Docs defend 'free lunch' from hospital

HealthJobs and WorkplaceCorporate OfficersLeesburgHealthcare ProvidersLady LakeLee Huntley

Last week, this column featured a "free lunch" issue.

The problem is that doctors at Leesburg and The Villages regional medical centers get them. Janitors don't. Neither do any other employees.

The tradition of free food for doctors is carried on in hospitals around the country, said Lee Huntley, chief executive officer at Central Florida Health Alliance, the company that owns the hospitals. It's ingrained, and it would be difficult to stop without creating hard feelings.

However, folks working in more menial positions stand in line to pay for their food behind doctors who stroll away without pulling out their wallets.

Ouch.

Here are a few reactions, including two from brave doctors:

As a physician on staff at Central Florida Health Alliance, I sometimes partake in the "free lunch" provided for physicians.

But let's look at that free lunch a little closer. Most people, including hospital employees, are not aware that the majority of physicians on staff are not hospital employees. The physicians on staff pay for their staff privileges.

I'm sorry to see the hospitals reduce benefits to employees. These are benefits most physicians do not receive and have never received from the hospital. So while employees get paid vacation, paid time off, sick days, breaks and lunch hours covered by the hospital, the physicians -- as independent contractors -- receive none of this from the hospital and have to provide their own coverage.

As a physician working a night, weekend or holiday, there is no time and a half -- it's just another day. Except for the "free lunch," the hospital pays us nada, zip, zilch.

If you come to the hospital uninsured or don't pay your bills, we take the liability and eat the bill, too. We all know good care is a team effort, from the greeter at the entrance to the hospital's chief executive officer.

All components are important for providing quality care. The lunch, however, does serve another valuable purpose to the hospital. For many of us, it is the only time we see our colleagues in person. It puts a face to a name or a report and fosters that team spirit among the physicians. Many physicians have privileges at multiple hospitals.

Do we need a free lunch? No. The lunch, however, is a nice gesture from the hospital and encourages us to eat in the hospital, fostering that bond with our colleagues and the hospital.

This reminds me of another lesson my dad taught me: "There is no free lunch."

George Kainz, M.D. Lady Lake

Most of my colleagues did not choose medicine as a career because they thought that someday they would get a "free lunch."

The literally thousands of hours of professional volunteerism, including charity care, committee work and personal donations, are usually unsung. Hospitals' and hospital communities' survival is predicated on this fundamental resource of extensive professional volunteerism.

Most of the time, my wife packs my lunch. But I am always appreciative whenever the courtesy of a "free lunch" is offered to me.

Joe Lunch Bucket, M.D. akaTully C. Patrowicz, M.D.Eustis

I worked for almost 20 years as a nurse in a large teaching hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.

The doctors paid for their food just like everyone else who ate there. They did have their own special dining room, but some of them still ate with the rest of the staff.

As far as doctors being asked to come into the emergency room during the night, that's pretty much a falsity. There are emergency-room doctors who staff the ER. They may call the attending physician on the phone, but if it's the middle of the night, they're hesitant to do that, too.

From my experience, many of the doctors here don't even make hospital rounds. The hospitals have "hospitalists" on staff, and attending physicians rarely come into the hospital.

If anyone should get a free lunch, it's the nurses who care for the doctors' patients 24 hours a day. They have to fight with the doctors to get things ordered for the patients and question what doesn't appear correct.

I really don't think doctors are hurting too much. Take a look at the cars parked in the doctors' parking lot, then look where the rest of the staff park.

Ann SargentLeesburg

In keeping with the current class-envy mentality being espoused by many of our current leaders, why stop at lunches? Expand your comments to report on the incomes, housing and vehicles the doctors drive and how unfair it is that all of "us" do not enjoy the same perks of life.

Let the hospital decide how to run its business, and if anyone wants a free lunch, let them go to school for 10 to 12 years, and then they will be equal.

I am not a doctor, just a retired salesman.

Ronnie SkeenLeesburg

Lauren Ritchie can be reached at Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918. Her blog is online at OrlandoSentinel.com/laurenonlake.

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