CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Atrium Health is publicly accusing its anesthesiologists of running a fear-based ad campaign and misleading Charlotte residents in the process.
A group of physicians called Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants currently handles all of anesthesiology services for Atrium Health but their contract ends June 30.
Atrium announced it signed a deal with a new anesthesiology services provider known as Scope.
The current anesthesiologists are affiliated with a Florida-based company called MEDNAX that is leading a lawsuit against Atrium accusing the health care system of unfair business practices aimed at pushing its company out the door. Atrium has filed a counterclaim.
All of that forms the foundation for what has become a high-profile fight the public is watching unfold on television, social media, radio and print.
The current anesthesiologists have launched an online petition and a countdown clock on their website suggesting the public will be in danger if the new provider takes over in July.
One of the concerns being raised by Southeast Anesthesiology is that the new group of medical professionals has never worked together and that will jeopardize patient safety.
Atrium Health counters that its new anesthesiologists average 18 years of experience and are coming to Charlotte from highly respected medical institutions across the country.
Dr. Tom Wherry leads the new anesthesiology service and said the team will arrive early for engagement meetings prior to any surgeries.
"They won't be meeting these anesthesiologists the first day," Wherry said. 'We still have the same perioperative team, the same nurse anesthetist, the same surgeons. The public should not be concerned at all."
Another point of contention between the parties revolves around the ratio of anesthesiologists handling patient care.
Southeast argues the new anesthesiologists will have a drastic patient load increase while Atrium insists it will remain the same.
"We're having the exact same number of anesthesiologists there day one," Wherry said. "Everything will be seamless and safety will not be a concern at all."
The local anesthesiologist company provided a statement to Channel 9 that said it's entirely reasonable for them to be raising questions of quality and patient safety.
"Our campaign has been designed to provide information to patients that enable them to make informed health care decisions," the statement read in part.
Full Statement From Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants and Mednax Services, Inc., its Practice Management Company:
"Our campaign has been designed to provide information to patients that enable them to make informed healthcare decisions.
It is not unreasonable to ask whether it is possible to bring in an entirely new team that has never worked together, or with either CRNAs or surgeons, without affecting quality and patient safety? If quality and patient safety are of paramount concern, such an action does not make sense.
As we have stated numerous times, Atrium Health and Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants have built one of the highest quality anesthesia programs in the country, one that took years to develop and refine. Why is Atrium dismantling such a successful program?
Our anesthesiologists remain ready, willing and able to provide services for Charlotte's patients in need of anesthesiology services at Atrium facilities, as part of the practice that they have built together over the past 37 years.
We cannot comment on any planned legal actions, except to say that it was unfortunate that it was necessary to address Atrium Health's actions related to SAC in court.
We will continue to voice our concerns as physicians about Atrium Health's aggressive, monopolistic business practices and their negative impact on patients, the medical community and the region."
Atrium Health Statement Concerning Countersuit Against Mednax:
"Atrium Health has filed our response and a countersuit against Mednax, the publicly traded Florida-based company and the corporate parent company that represents Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants. This is in response to their frivolous lawsuit prompted by our recent business decision to move our anesthesia services to Scope Anesthesia on July 1, 2018.
Unfortunately, this is the way Mednax operates. Our filing details that Mednax has a history of suing others. In July, Mednax sued 47 of its own anesthesiologists practicing at Atrium Health. This lawsuit was filed shortly after the anesthesiologists reported Mednax to the North Carolina Medical Board.
We are not alone in making the decision to end our relationship with Mednax. In the past several months, other providers, such as Duke Raleigh Hospital has refused to renew with Mednax, as has Cone Health, the preeminent public healthcare system in Greensboro.
As it relates to the transition from Mednax to Scope Anesthesia, we are confident in a seamless transition and now have confirmation that Scope is ahead of schedule in recruiting and hiring anesthesiologists.
Ultimately, we were not comfortable in partnering with Mednax, a company that has workforce instability, among other issues. This decision supports our priorities to provide high quality care to every patient who walks through our door.
Specific excerpts from our claim include:
- "…Mednax…sued forty-seven of its own doctors-accusing them of trying to "extort" compensation increases-and demanding that the court force the physicians Mednax tried to replace back to work."
- "In the past year, more than fifty of SAC's own physicians have filed complaints with the North Carolina Medical Board asserting that SAC and Mednax's business practices violate North Carolina medical ethics rules, and State and federal laws."
- "…in the past several months, Duke Raleigh Hospital has declined to renew its anesthesiology services agreement with Mednax, as has Cone Health, the preeminent public healthcare system in Greensboro."
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