PORT ANGELES — Olympic Medical Center agreed to a contract with Sound Physicians on Friday, despite criticism from many emergency department doctors and staff two days earlier.
The board conducted a special meeting virtually.
Earlier, the hospital had said that it would not renew the contract with Peninsula Emergency Services, Inc. (PESI), which expires at the end of the month, and instead would hire Sound Physicians to provide emergency department physicians as of July 1.
Darryl Wolfe, CEO of OMC, said a contract provision allows the hospital to leave the contract six months after the first year if it finds a better partnership.
“We’ve reached an agreement with Sound Physicians,” Wolfe said.
“The high-level point of the agreement is that it starts out as a three-year term. However, there is a six-month out after the first year.
“I also wanted to reiterate to the crowd that our goal is not to ‘get married’ today, but our goal is to look at this as a bridge to find a long-term partner,” Wolfe said.
“That could be Sound Physicians, that could be others, we don’t know, but we needed to execute on this sooner rather than later.”
The agreement will cost $106,905 per month to provide physicians, totaling $1.28 million a year.
The impetus for this sudden change in emergency service providers is due primarily to ongoing investigations against an emergency department doctor who works with PESI, Wolfe has said.
“Things that we have been informed about that are unfortunately influencing this decision a great deal. I wish I could say more,” said John Nutter, OMC board chair, on Friday.
The hospital initially announced the decision in a June 9 press release and again on Wednesday night when it heard objections from about 30 doctors, nurses and staff, as well as community members.
One complaint was that the decision had been made so swiftly and without any feedback from the doctors involved.
No mention of the change was listed on recent meeting agendas. Board meeting minutes have not been updated on the OMC board website, https://www.olympicmedical.org/about-us/board-information, since April 6.
“I have received more constituent feedback in the past three days than I have in my entire 13 years being on this board,” Nutter said.
“There are a lot of strong feelings one way or another, and probably my biggest frustration continues to be that we cannot completely tell our side of the story yet because of ongoing investigations at multiple levels,” he added.
Wolfe echoed Nutter’s comments.
“The best analogy that I have come up with is like being tied to a chair with your hands behind your back and being punched in the face and you can’t defend yourself,” Wolfe said.
One of the speakers on Wednesday questioned how the board could choose Sound Physicians, which has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Wolfe did not answer the question at the time, but in a statement provided to the Peninsula Daily News late Thursday, he said: “The Better Business Bureau rating for Sound Physicians emergency department services was not part of our determination to partner with the group.”
“We considered, very specifically, germane references with recent experience in emergency medicine that we could validate, instead of generalized ratings,” he said.
“Sound Physicians comes highly recommended for their emergency medical services specifically,” Wolfe said.
“We inquired with hospital peers who utilize Sound Physicians, including a favorable reference from Samaritan Healthcare, who has three years of experience with Sound Physicians as an emergency medicine provider.”
At the meeting on Friday, Wolfe, along with other board members, lamented the timing and quickness of this decision as well.
“I wish we weren’t here. I wish the timing were different. But the situation is unavoidable, and all I can say is this is no longer about just the ER and just an individual provider, this is about the whole organization,” Wolfe said.
“This is not how we want to do things, but our hand has been forced and the risk has risen to a level where we have no choice, and I wish we weren’t here.
“There are actually two issues here. One is a personnel issue, which will require sorting out by others. The second is a management systems issue. A serious breakdown of a management system has occurred, thus precipitating this action,” Commissioner Tom Oblak said.
“Having said that, I want all staff to know they are valued and appreciated, and it is our desire that you remain with OMC and continue what you’re doing providing excellence in health care,” Oblak said.
Doctors and emergency department providers who currently work at OMC through PESI have been asked to apply with Sound Physicians to keep their jobs at OMC. The majority of providers have indicated they will not leave PESI to join Sound Physicians and will leave OMC altogether, according to an anonymous letter said to be from emergency department nurses.
“We understand the timing is not ideal, and we will continue to look and survey the market to find the best long-term partner for OMC,” Wolfe said.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].