Palomar Health proposes contract provider change, sparking pushback from physicians

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Palomar Health physicians are pushing back against a switch in contracted healthcare workers proposed by the Escondido, Calif.-based health system over concerns about safety and staffing, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

On June 21, Palomar announced it had struck an agreement on a three-year contract with emergency care provider Emergent Medical Associates and another medical group, Benchmark, to provide emergency physicians, hospitalists, intensivists and related support personnel for its hospitals in Escondido and Poway, Calif. 

Emergent Medical Associates would replace Vituity, which has provided intensivists for the last six years, hospitalists for eight years and emergency physicians for more than four decades, Palomar said.

But some physicians are fighting the proposal, citing concerns that it could result in fewer physicians on duty and safety issues, according to the report.

Sabiha Pasha, MD, chief of staff at Palomar Medical Center Escondido, told the Union-Tribune Palomar plans to reduce the number of physicians available to "round" on patients daily and add nonphysician allied health workers, leading to fewer people to care for patients. 

"This is a safety issue," Dr. Pasha told the newspaper. "As the chief of staff, I feel it is my duty to speak up against it."

In a news release, Palomar Health said Emergent Medical Associates has agreed to offer employment to about 100 physicians and 45 other nonemployee staff affected by the contract change.

The health system estimated 90 percent to 95 percent of affected physicians and nonemployee staff will continue to work at Palomar Health in the same capacities.

However, another physician, Allan Hansen, MD, Palomar Escondido's emergency room medical director, told the Union-Tribune physicians will likely leave, and that the decision of whether to join the new group represents giving up "ownership and autonomy" built over time.

Palomar Health President and CEO Diane Hansen said Emergent Medical Associates was chosen because it's "most aligned with Palomar Health's strategic goals"

"Our community and patients expect us to be good stewards of our resources," Ms. Hansen said. "EMA's proposal allows us to retain all our staff, plus reinvest saved resources to upgrade patient care."

Palomar Health said it expects to use savings to purchase three new CT scanners, a new MRI machine and make further investments in service lines such as cardiology, women's services and orthopedics.

If signed, the contract would take effect in August. 

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