Sudden changes in Olympic Medical Center’s Emergency Department have doctors, nurses and other staff in an uproar.
OMC announced June 9 that it would not renew its contract with Peninsula Emergency Services, Inc. (PESI) of Port Angeles, which it had used for 20 years to provide emergency department physicians. PESI’s contract expires June 30, and OMC said in a press release that it had selected Sound Physicians of Tacoma to be its new emergency physician group partner, effective July 1.
“Health care has changed, OMC has changed and our patients need us to move our emergency department in a different direction,” Darryl Wolfe, CEO of OMC, said in the press release.
“We believe that Sound Physicians’ extensive experience working with other hospital systems will offer valuable insights and processes, and they will work collaboratively with our emergency department, hospital staff and administration to foster positive change.”
At an OMC commission meeting Wednesday night, a board member told about 30 people — medical providers and members of the community — who objected to the decision that the contract had not been signed yet.
OMC has scheduled a special meeting (virtual) to consider the agreement with Sound Physicians for 2:30 p.m. today (Friday, June 17); visit olympicmedical.org/virtual-board-meeting for Web-ex meeting information.
Apart from its regular nursing staff and tech support, OMC contracts with a third-party company to staff its emergency doctors.
Comment was requested from Sound Physicians and from PESI without a response from either on Thursday.
Doctors at OMC who work for PESI have been asked to apply to work for Sound Physicians.
“Due to OMC’s decision to change from PESI to Sound Physicians, the majority of the current Emergency Medicine Providers, including physicians and mid-levels, will no longer be working at OMC,” according to an unsigned letter that said it was from OMC emergency department nurses.
“This means that up to 18 new providers will need to be on-boarded, credentialed, and trained in OMC’s rural-specific hospital processes in just three short weeks. On July 1st there may be no currently working Emergency Medical Providers to guide these new individuals through hospital-specific processes. This alone does not bode well for patient safety and outcomes,” reads the letter.
According to a statement issued late Thursday afternoon by Wolfe, pending litigation against a PESI doctor is the leading cause for the change.
“An Emergency Services provider, employed by PESI, is the subject of three criminal investigations,” he said in the emailed statement.
“These allegations, which began to surface in April, are in regard to this provider’s alleged actions while on a shift in the Emergency Department at Olympic Medical Center,” he continued.
“We cannot discuss the criminal cases in detail as they are open and active cases. However, these criminal investigations are what initially prompted the regulatory visits to OMC. There was sufficient concern resulting from the regulatory agency investigations, that a change in medical group leadership needed to be made imminently,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe said OMC leadership’s decision to separate from PESI was difficult but that “we want to do what’s the best for our patients, and right now that’s partnering with Sound Physicians as our emergency department group.
“The concerns about PESI are about the administrative and operational management of the group. In the meantime, we are putting a plan in place to eliminate any potential gaps in emergency department services at Olympic Medical Center,” he added.
Dr. Frank Rosenbloom, a hospitalist at OMC, told commissioners Wednesday night that he had worked for Sound Physicians and described the company as malignant and as the worst decision OMC could make for its ED.
Sound Physicians has an F rating — one out of five stars — from the Better Business Bureau, which has not accredited the business.
“On February 16, 2021, BBB recognized a pattern of complaints from consumers regarding billing, collections, and customer service issues,” according to a statement from the BBB on its website.
”Consumers allege that the business is sending unpaid balances to collections without prior notification to consumers, as billing statements are not received. Consumers further allege that charges being sent to collections are for services not provided, balances that were not billed to insurance companies, and for balances that were previously paid. Consumers allege that the business does not answer multiple phone call attempts and/or voicemails, resulting in consumers being unable to inquire about charges being sent to collections incorrectly,” the statement continues.
“On February 17, 2021, BBB notified the company of the complaint pattern. To date, the company has not responded to BBB’s request to address the pattern,” reads the statement.
Steven Higgs, a former ER doctor for OMC, urged an independent investigation into the decision.
“These Sound Physicians doctors that they think they will get in 15 days, they have no relationship to this community at all,” he said. “This is going to be dangerous.
“There should be an investigation into how they came to this conclusion, all while expecting to hire the same doctors… it seems to me the board doesn’t even understand what’s happening,” Higgs said.
Higgs also accused the board of condemning other ED doctors for the alleged actions of another.
“How is it you’re going to ‘hang’ these doctors for the alleged indiscretions of one? I mean, he deserves his time in court. If he’s done the things that have been said, he needs to ‘hang,’ not everyone else,” Higgs said.
Support for decision
Former OMC CEO Eric Lewis, who now is the chief financial officer at the Washington State Hospital Association, and Wendy Sisk, CEO of Peninsula Behavioral Health, both sent letters of support for the OMC commission’s decision.
Lewis said he did not know any of the details of the current situation with PESI, but described Sound Physicians as an “excellent organization.”
“PESI has some excellent providers and they have done a good job for OMC, but they are not a functioning group,” Lewis said.
“OMC must do all their billing and collection work. A change to a functioning large group with a human resources department (recruitment and performance evaluations), legal department, clinical protocols, safety/quality department, and a billing department does need to happen.”
Sisk said that she had encountered challenges “in terms of the equitable care of those who have complex behavioral needs.
“Admittedly, I have had positive experiences with the current physicians’ group, but I could provide examples throughout my two decades of our consumers being stigmatized and their needs often dismissed.
“I look forward to a shift in ED culture to a more quality focused and metrics driven emphasis,” she said. “Thank you for pursuing services that will hopefully improve the overall quality of care for all of our community members.”