Thursday, November 26, 2020
Nov. 26, 2020

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PeaceHealth hospital doctors sound alarm

More help needs to be hired, physicians in Eugene area say

The Columbian
Published:

PeaceHealth’s corporate headquarters is in Vancouver. The health care nonprofit operates PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. It is Clark County’s largest employer, with 4,288 workers.

EUGENE , Ore. — The number of hospitalists treating patients at PeaceHealth’s Sacred Heart Medical Centers in Springfield and Eugene has fallen to dangerously low levels at a time of peak demand, local hospitalists say.

There are far fewer hospitalists — doctors who care for patients in the hospital around the clock — at the Sacred Heart hospitals than there were last summer, Sacred Heart hospitalists say.

The hospitalists’ criticism comes on top of complaints from Sacred Heart nurses, who have said a shortage of nurses is putting patients at risk.

‘A huge strain’

“We’re very concerned about patient safety. That’s our No. 1 goal to ensure that,” said Dr. Brittany Ellison, a hospitalist at Sacred Heart and communications director for the recently formed Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association — the first hospitalist union in the United States.

PeaceHealth's corporate headquarters is in Vancouver. The health care nonprofit operates PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. It is Clark County's largest employer, with 4,288 workers.

The lack of hospitalists “puts a huge strain on the staff, including nurses, CNAs and specialists. …It’s just ridiculous the number of hours we’re doing and the number of patients we’re seeing,” she said.

A quiet battle has been brewing between Sacred Heart hospitalists and administrators in recent months after Sacred Heart began looking into outsourcing the hospitalists, now employed by PeaceHealth Medical Group, to a third party. Now, for the first time, the hospitalists are intensifying the pressure on PeaceHealth by making their criticisms public.

The medical group is in the process of bargaining an initial contract with the hospitalists’ union.

Giving notice

PeaceHealth is using temporary hospitalists — known as locums — while it recruits permanent staff, local PeaceHealth spokesman Jim Godbold said. Hospitalists say they’re scrambling to cover all the shifts and end up working a lot of overtime, which is taking a toll.

PeaceHealth officials said they take the concerns of all their caregivers, including hospitalists, “very seriously.”

“Patient safety is our top priority,” Godbold said. “We work diligently and enact protocols to ensure our patients receive safe, high-quality care. This includes immediately responding to staffing issues as they arise.”

The hospitalists said they’ve brought their staffing concerns to administrators, but that hasn’t helped so far. The union wants hospital administrators to hire more hospitalists immediately and to clarify whether the existing group of 27 hospitalists, who are employed by PeaceHealth Medical Group, is being outsourced to a third-party company.

That possibility, first raised last spring, prompted about 15 hospitalists last summer to give their 120-day notice, according to Ellison and Dr. David Schwartz, another PeaceHealth hospitalist.

Last summer, PeaceHealth Medical Group employed 39 hospitalists (the equivalent of 37 full-time doctors); now there are 27 (25 full-time equivalents), and the figure will drop to 24 (22.45 FTEs) in May, Schwartz said.

“No new permanent physicians have been hired since last March,” he said.

About 10 locums are working at Sacred Heart, Schwartz said. That’s only the equivalent of about seven full-time physicians to make up for the equivalent of 12 full-time doctors lost since last summer, he said. And one of the recently hired locums will be here only a month, Schwartz said.

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