By ABBY SOUZA
Using temporary, out-of-area doctors will soon be part of Tuolumne General Hospital's past.
After more than a year of temporary surgeons filling the on-call schedule, hospital officials are beginning to sign contracts with local surgeons to take their place.
TGH Administrator Barry Woerman has signed a professional services agreement with Sonora physician Dr. Stephen Hopkins and said he plans to have similar agreements with Dr. Lawrence Mier, Dr. Gideon Naude and Dr. Eden Smith, all of whom practice in Sonora.
"The surgeons have agreed to it in principle," Woerman told the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors. The board approved Hopkins' contract last week.
"This will save the hospital a considerable amount of money," Woerman said.
The administrator has said that just having a temporary surgeon on hand costs the hospital $1,200 a day each. In addition, each surgeon receives $195 for each call to which he or she responds. Then there are surgical fees and the cost of bringing each doctor here and paying his or her expenses.
TGH began using fill-in doctors called locum tenens surgeons in August 2002, when several area surgeons took themselves off the on-call list. That left the hospital no choice but to hire temporary, out-of-area doctors in order to have at least one surgeon on call at all times.
In March, the board approved the use of the surgeons until the end of the fiscal year on June 30. However, a 30-day extension was given to TGH in July.
However costly, Woerman has said the hospital would have suffered without the contract surgeons. Without those services, TGH would have fewer admissions because doctors don't like to refer patients to a hospital where surgical services are not readily available.