Gaston Memorial Hospital, which is administrated by Caromont Health, in Gastonia, North Carolina is a facility in which I and many members of my family have been treated. It was also the hospital in which several of our children were born. However, the hospital administration is coming under fire as 20 “hospitalists” have resigned in recent months. According to County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck, these are some of the “brightest physicians, cardiologists anesthesiologists, radiologists, leaving” which have already impacted the care of citizens. In a letter to the hospital administration, Dr. Frederic E. Levy, MD blasted the Board Members of Caromont Healthcare for failing to “represent Gaston County’s citizens interests.” The question I have is, is this related to Obamacare implementation? And if it is, is there a design to limit health care in doing it.
The hospital garnered ridicule as it adopted a slogan to promote healthier living habits called “Cheat Death.” The controversy not only surrounded the slogan, but the Chapel Hill-based marketing firm, that came up with the slogan, had a familiar tie to the administration. However, the demise of that tag line was not the result of the administration taking it upon themselves to remove it, but instead was brought on by national and international coverage of the slogan.
That aside, Dr. Levy wrote the following letter to the administration.
For the past 20 years I have had the privilege of residing in one of the greatest communities in the United States. My children are being educated in a public school system that has integrity and a deeply committed staff. As a physician, I enjoy daily interactions with fellow community members from all walks of life and feel a genuine love for them. Like all of you, I have given my heart, soul and have beamed with pride as I watched the institution that I have committed all of my working life to, Gaston Memorial Hospital, has received one public accolade after another. I have been fortunate to know many of you, care for more than several of you (and your families) and watch my children play on sports teams (and win championships!) with others. You are a great and critical group of people in our community. You give of your time to the largest and most important institution (and largest employer) in Gaston County. Your physician panel genuinely appreciates what you do for our county.
Yesterday, most of you witnessed an unprecedented even in the history of our hospital. You were kind enough to spend 2 hours and twenty minutes listening to our medical staff speak their minds. We all saw docs baring their souls, some crying, and some shaking with quivering voices. Some of them where scared into silence and just watched, too intimidated to speak. I’m sure it wasn’t lost on any of you that there is a serious problem here. Caromont Healthcare has a systemic, toxic environment which, unfortunately, is not just a private matter, but one that is known throughout the Charlotte area and well beyond that. We are the poster child for dysfunction and comically misdirected taglines. From administration, our physician staff, rather than being thanked for their efforts, receives termination letters as a prelude to contract negotiations. Our nurses are hanging their heads, dismayed that their employer has embarrassed them. Our citizens, long used to generalizations and (probably good natured) ridicule, have a REAL reason to feel embarrassed to claim their residency here.
My practice, like almost all ENT practices in this country, requires coverage of a broad geographic area. ENT Carolina’s three offices serve a 5 county area and require our active participation in three major healthcare systems. This is a delicate and challenging task for us. Competing interests of these healthcare systems require great skill to make these entities happy. We cover Gaston and Cleveland counties ERs 24/7/365. I have attended meetings in many institutions. One thing that I want to share with you is the universal respect that non Caromont systems have for what WE have built HERE. Carolinas Healthcare Systems spends countless hours strategizing on how to make headway against Caromont. Up until the last 18 months, little measurable progress could be demonstrated by CHS in taking market share from Caromont. They have established and acquired numerous practices and direct patient traffic around Gaston County. But still, Caromont thrived as an independent. UNTIL NOW. The volume and market share of Caromont, for the first time, is quickly shrinking
Our CEO and administrative leadership, with the help of its legal counsel, has done for CHS and Novant, what they could never have done for themselves. They owe a huge heartfelt thank you To Randy Kelley, CEO, and his administrative leaders.
I have never lost sleep and worried about my personal, family and community interests like this before.
Board members: you have a HUGE decision to make in the next few days. There is an opportunity to make the clear and necessary change. Truly, even a split board represents an unacceptable circumstance, one that will inevitably lead to the further erosion and eventual destruction of our beloved institution. You have clearly heard from the public and must have the personal conviction and courage to vote NOT to CONDONE all that has taken place. You have the single greatest opportunity that you have ever had to show that you represent Gaston County’s citizens interests and you WONT allow an administration that has systematically destroyed Caromont Healthcare (in only 18 months). Your community will not be able to wrap their brains around a board that votes to keep the current leadership in power and you all will have to live with that forever.
Thank You for all you do for us,
Frederic E. Levy , MD
Levy then followed up his letter with a submittal to the Gaston Gazette for publication, in which he and Dr. Steven W. Yates point out that “A group of over 20 respected well- trained experienced doctors have all resigned in recent months. This included physicians who have served our patients for over 20 years. They not only provided excellent care, they advanced the medical knowledge of junior physicians through mentoring. And they provided 24 hour care for anybody with a medical problem inside the hospital.” Now they are left with a temporary agency physicians attempting to “fill the holes.”
Apparently, these highly trained and experienced physicians were threatened with termination and replacement by “turn-key” out of state contractors. As a result of their resignations, Levy and Yates write “Patients have had to wait for hours in the emergency room to see the admitting physician. Furthermore we have had to divert patients away from our hospital because we did not have the capacity to care for them. Finally many of our excellent private physicians have started to send their patients to other hospitals for admission.”
While a meeting was held on Friday so that physicians could speak up on what is taking place, many were apparently fearful of retaliation from CaroMont, as some are bound by a “gag clause” in their contracts with the administration.
However, this is not an isolated hospital. Duke, one of the most well-known hospitals in the United States, which is in Durham, North Carolina is also having many doctors resign. These are not young doctors either, but some are chiefs of staff for various specialties.
One wonders if this is merely an administrative move or if this is some of the intended consequences of the implementation of Obamacare. Perhaps it is a bit of both. In either case, those that evaluated Obamacare understood that many doctors were already talking about getting out of the profession should Obamacare become law.
If you wish to make your voice known to Hospital Board members, here’s their names, phone numbers and email addresses:
Mary Frances Forrester
H. Spurgeon Mackie, Jr., Chair
Sheila Reilly, V-CH
James R. Beam
David Allen Smith
James W. Bailey