PORT ANGELES — Sound Physicians is making an effort to recruit more physicians to the emergency department at Olympic Medical Center with the hope that it will lessen long wait times.
OMC Commissioner Ann Marie Henninger told other commissioners on Wednesday that people have told her about 12-hour waits in the emergency room.
She asked how Sound Physicians will address the long wait times in the emergency department. She said this has plagued the emergency room since before the transition of emergency providers at the hospital from Peninsula Emergency Services to Sound Physicians.
Dr. Gary Zimmer, chief medical officer for Sound Physicians, said it is a nationwide issue to which there is no single answer.
“First, this is not an OMC problem. This is a nationwide crisis,” Zimmer said.
“The numbers of people leaving without being seen and ER wait times are up substantially, and it’s been a tremendous challenge,” he said.
“Core drivers of this challenge are nursing and provider staffing levels and the availability of backend processes,” he continued. “Here (OMC), specifically, we’ve been making efforts to get folks seen in the waiting room, which is not currently a 24-hour process and is one of the challenges we have to fix.
“The wait times that we are seeing here are not acceptable,” he added. “We are not proud of them, but they are also similar to what every emergency department across the country is going through. We are trying to be as creative as we can to get people seen.”
Zimmer told commissioners that Sound Physicians has been recruiting full-time physicians for OMC.
“We have had lots of movement of candidates over the last six months and I think we are starting to turn the corner in terms of actually landing candidates who have signed on as permanent full-time medical staff here,” Zimmer said.
Sound Physicians officially took over the emergency department at OMC in October. It had acted as the temporary emergency department provider since July after OMC suddenly ended its contract with longtime emergency department provider Peninsula Emergency Services in June.
During that time, most of the providers in the emergency department were there on locums/temporary contracts.
Currently, at least 30 members of the physicians and staff on hand in the emergency department at OMC are on locums contracts. No information was immediately provided when requested on the amount of the locums contracts.
Sound Physicians has since hired six of the 12 permanent staff that it had set out to hire as permanent medical staff members for the emergency department. These are four physicians and two nurse practitioners set to start over the course of the spring and summer.
Zimmer said the rural location of the hospital has slowed recruitment.
“I think one of the challenges is we are looking at a remote location and we may not get a big enough pool of candidates with the quality that we are looking for,” he said.
“The goal is to get them through, and we have cast a net more broadly to be able to have options as well,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said that, of the 39 candidates recently interviewed, 20 declined offers due to the rural location, nine were not extended offers, six candidates did not respond, two declined the interview process and two declined due to the compensation model. No information was provided when requested on what Sound has offered to pay.
While it continues the process of recruiting and retaining physicians, Sound is planning to have one of its own “ambassador” physicians, which usually are assigned for three to 12 months, Zimmer said.
“They are a full-time Sound Physician, a physician that is assigned to take up temporary positions for us at hospitals,” he said.
OMC Commissioner Thom Hightower asked if Sound Physicians intends to have its providers live in the community.
“Our expectation is that at least the core group of physicians will live here, if not at least within a reasonable driving distance,” Zimmer said.
Commissioner Phil Giuntoli asked Zimmer if the emergency department is doing a better job now than it did before with PESI, setting aside a difficult transition period.
“I’m not going to inflate the situation,” Zimmer said.
“The kind of data we have now was not widely available, so, from an analytical perspective, it’s hard for me to give you the answer of a number because I really don’t know what the baseline is,” he added.
“Since we (Sound Physicians) have been here though, we’ve definitely made progress … we have challenges that we need to work on though.”
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at email@example.com.