The headlines are harrowing: corporate layoffs; foreclosures on the rise; 401(k) retirement plans halved; government bailouts adding to the national debt. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression has generated some unexpected outcomes, yet not all of them are bad for hospitalists. Below, four vignettes highlight HM groups that have achieved success despite—or in some cases because of—these troubled times.
A Better Business Agreement
It has taken nearly two years—and sometimes as many as four meetings a week—but Rajeev Alexander, MD, and his colleagues are nearing the finish line of an evolving business arrangement. The new arrangement has come about due to the economic downturn, which forced Oregon Medical Group (OMG), a multispecialty physician group serving hospitals in the Eugene/Springfield area and the HM group’s employer since 1988, to want to divest themselves of the hospitalist group. Now, after a lengthy negotiation, Dr. Alexander’s group of eight hospitalists is busier than ever.
Through what were essentially multiple quasi-buyouts, divestitures, and mergers, Dr. Alexander’s hospitalist group “spun off” from OMG and affiliated with PeaceHealth, a nonprofit health system serving seven hospitals in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. The new contract means Dr. Alexander’s group is directly employed by Sacred Heart Hospital, a 541-bed PeaceHealth-owned facility in Eugene.
The new contract included a non-compete clause with OMG, which currently employs five hospitalists, yet Dr. Alexander’s group has maintained its patient volume. Compensation held steady and employee benefits improved. During an independent and slow-moving negotiation, Dr. Alexander’s group has merged with another HM service that originally was employed by PeaceHealth. The two HM groups (technically competitors) now practice in the same hospital and are ironing out the terms of the merger. At the moment, the groups have created a mutually respectful joint governance council.
“We’ve tackled the thorniest of problems,” Dr. Alexander says, “first, creating a combined work schedule to distribute patients and divide the work. Those of us on the governance council figured if we could get the docs to actually work together and share patients and communicate with each other as if they were one group, then the momentum for an actual administrative/contractual merger would feel inevitable.”
Although negotiations are expected to last through the end of the year to finalize such details as compensation, recruiting, and a group mission statement, the medical staff at Sacred Heart considers the merger a “done deal” and has thrown its support behind the effort. “Community outpatient docs have been clamoring for our services, and we have been having to hand out numbers and ask them to wait in line, so to speak,” Dr. Alexander says.