TGH needs to stretch doctor contracts

March 10, 2003 12:00 am

By ABBY SOUZA

Tuolumne General Hospital administration had a March 15 deadline to wind up contracts with four doctors on temporary duty.

But one of those four contracts — for an on-call emergency room surgeon — won't meet that deadline.

TGH Administrator Barry Woerman will be in front of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors tomorrow, asking to extend that contract through June 30 — the end of the fiscal year.

In a report, Woerman said three of the four surgeons in the county capable of taking emergency room calls refuse to do so.

That leaves the hospital no choice but to hire temporary out-of-area doctors. No one doctor can be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

TGH has been using a "locum tenens surgeon" since August. Locum tenens doctors are physicians who can be called upon to fill in when a hospital or clinic is short handed.

Woerman said the contracts are costly — the basic rate for a surgeon to be on call is $1,200 a day plus $195 for every call they take. That does not include surgical fees and the cost for bringing the doctor to the foothills and paying his or her room and board. One of the last doctors TGH brought in was from Europe.

But the hospital would suffer without the high-priced contract surgeon, Woerman said. 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.

Woerman's report said hospital staff's financial projections include the use of temporary physicians through June 30, so operating losses will not be greater if TGH maintains the contract.

During the next few months, Woerman's report said, hospital staff will consider contracting directly with or hiring a local physician for surgical services, instead of contracting through a locum tenens company.

At the Feb. 4 county board meeting, several supervisors expressed concern with the high cost of locum tenens physicians, especially with the hospital in a financial spiral.