St. Mary Medical Center faces backlash over plans to drop anesthesia group

St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., plans to sever ties with its current anesthesia provider despite backlash from the medical staff, the Press-Telegram reports.

On April 8, St. Mary President and CEO Carolyn Caldwell informed staff that the hospital wouldn't renew its contract with Long Beach Anesthesia when the agreement expires in late August. St. Mary selected Harrison, N.Y.-based Somnia Anesthesiology as its new provider, effective Sept. 1.

Some physicians said they believe St. Mary decided to change providers because some physicians from Long Beach Anesthesiology were critical of San Francisco-based Dignity Health, which operates the hospital. St. Mary representatives denied that the switch is retaliatory.

Ms. Caldwell said in a prepared statement that the decision came as a result of Long Beach Anesthesia's unreasonable financial demands. However, her assertion was contradicted by Douglas McFarland, MD, who is head of the Medical Executive Committee that represents physicians in discussions with hospital leadership.

Dr. McFarland said in a separate memo to employees on April 16 that the hospital hadn't agreed on financial terms with Somnia when it made its decision.

While Ms. Caldwell said Somnia "is in discussions with [current anesthesiologists] about their interest in continuing at SMMC with the new group," physicians told the Press-Telegram they have no evidence Somnia approached current anesthesiologists about staying on board.

Ms. Caldwell also suggested the peer-elected Medical Executive Committee had input in the decision to change providers. However, Dr. McFarland, who is the hospital's chief of staff, said Ms. Caldwell and Somnia didn't support the physicians' requests for further information. Somnia would only send anonymous samples of some physicians' resumes, he said, so "the medical staff's ability to comment on the quality of Somnia's providers was circumvented."

On behalf of the committee, Dr. McFarland asked to receive credentialing information on any new physicians by June 1.

"The medical staff will not be forced to allow unqualified or problem anesthesiologists to practice at SMMC because of this contract change," Dr. McFarland wrote. "The medical staff leadership at SMMC will not ignore our important duties in this unfortunate contract situation."

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