El Centro Regional Medical Center now has solved some of the issues that moved certain patients in the obstetrics unit to other medical facilities after labor contract disputes with its pediatricians’ group caused OB to be closed for the last week.
The OB and pediatrics units have been reinstated to operational status, hospital officials said.
Patients are no longer being diverted to Pioneers Memorial Hospital, a press release from the hospital stated. The solution — contracting other pediatric groups — is temporary, but hospital administration is “actively pursuing a new direction for permanent medical staffing of the pediatrics unit,” the press release stated.
The contract with the previous pediatrician group expired in February and was extended due to ongoing negotiations.
At least six pediatricians have decided not to pursue the offered contract from the hospital. That led to patients without an assigned physician not being seen by the ECRMC-contracted group.
“For our local pediatricians to make themselves unavailable to those in need is a very unfortunate situation for this community,” said David Green, chief executive officer of ECRMC. “Nonetheless, we are dedicated to providing the best quality care available — even if that requires an alternative solution.”
The hospital was at an impasse with the pediatrics group in El Centro over its contract, specifically concerns over compensation pediatricians get for being on-call to treat walk-in patients.
“In the past, we were paid a fee of $41.66 per hour of coverage,” reads a memo submitted by the Pediatrics Department in August. “This money helped defray the cost of the increased liability insurance that we must pay to cover the (neonatal intensive care unit).
“It also helped offset the loss of revenue due to our being called into emergencies during the middle of the day from our private offices,” the same memo reads.
“The new contract would make that $14.58 per hour,” pediatrician Dr. Alfredo Negrete said in a previous interview. He did not have a comment Friday afternoon.
Prior to negotiations, the rate paid to these physicians was higher for on-call pediatrics, according to the press release from the hospital. This higher rate was due to the additional need for a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit staffed by a neonatologist. While the hospital worked on a permanent staffing solution, the pediatricians were offered a temporary fee increase for being on-call in order to cover those specialized services and the increased liability for doing so.
However, through the past three years the El Centro hospital has seen a sharp decrease in NICU patients due in part to a partnership with the March of Dimes. The numbers fell from 3.4 patients a day before 2010 to only 0.3 patients a day in 2011, according to the hospital.
“The NICU support was necessary a few years ago,” Green added. “We understood the physicians’ position at that time. However, ECRMC no longer maintains a full-time NICU as the community no longer has the same needs.”
In looking at the decreasing number of patients, ECRMC administration contracted with an outside agency to find the fair market value for essential services at the hospital. The amount proposed by the hospital represents the results of that investigation. Administration at the El Centro hospital anticipates coming to an agreement to resolve the need, and the group is working with multiple groups to determine how to proceed, Green said.
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