Just when it appeared the Fulton County Hospital was on a roll -- hospital admissions were more favorable in November and $500,000 owed by Medicaid and Medicare will soon help catch up with unpaid bills -- a new problem has developed.
Dr. Jim Bozeman announced at the Monday, Dec. 17, meeting of the hospital board of governors that he had turned his in resignation, and is preparing to step down as Emergency Room Director.
"I've directed the ER for 12 or 13 years, a long time, and, because of some things that have happened, it basically leaves me trying to cover the hospital (ER) seven days a week with limited help," Bozeman said.
He went on to explain that Dr. Russell Zapeda, a Mammoth Spring resident who has been staffing the ER during the day, was leaving at the end of December to move to Texas. In addition, Dr. Griffin Arnold, who has helped staff the ER on Mondays, would not work the ER after Jan. 1.
In a crushing blow, the Arkansas Medical Board took Dr. David Kauffman's temporary license, ending, at least for now, a process that would have allowed him to return to seeing patients, after a three year suspension.
"The Medical Board kind of dealt me a fatal blow when they denied Dr. Kauffman his license, and I was really planning on him helping me (staff the ER)," Bozeman said.
Facing an ER staff of just himself, Dr. Adam Gray of Melbourne and Dr. Rebecca Phillips, who works limited ER hours, Bozeman sees no way he can continue to work miracles and keep the ER staffed 24 hours a day.
"I've always made it work in the past but I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Bozeman said. "We'll have to look for other sources (of staffing)."
Hospital administrator Tony Thompson said he and Bozeman planned a December meeting with a private company which provides the staff for emergency rooms at hospitals in Harrison, Ark. and Branson, Mo. Thompson said he has not completely accepted Bozeman's resignation, in hopes he would still be involved in the emergency department he has worked so hard to keep in operation over the years.
"They have about 30 doctors there in their group, and they are only doing two hospitals, and are looking for business," Bozeman said. Most importantly, he added, they have doctors who are licensed to practice in Arkansas.
"And how much is it going to cost?" board member Jerry Blevins asked, if a private company was hired.
Thompson asked for time for discussions to take place with companies who provide ER staffing. Thompson admitted, however, Dr. Bozeman ran the ER for a very reasonable rate of pay, and a private staffing company could raise the cost by 40 to 50 percent.
Attending the meeting was Dr. Michael Moody, Dr. Bozeman's partner in the Salem Family Clinic.
Moody joined board member Bill Pace in praising the dedication Bozeman has shown to the hospital, and he said the ER staffing issue could not be taken lightly.
According to Moody, the hospital is facing a serious manpower problem. He noted that the Cherokee Village Hospital was forced to close because it could not adequately staff its ER, and without a solution, "We may be very vulnerable also, if we can't staff the ER."
Moody mentioned that the Ozark Medical Center, which manages the hospital, has hired a nurse practitioner for its First Care Clinic but he has not heard of any action by OMC to help the hospital with staffing. "To my knowledge, they have not offered any workforce help in any way, shape or form," Moody said.
After the meeting, Moody denied that he was being critical of OMC, but was just stating a fact as the problem was discussed.
Moody also told board members that newspaper articles, in recent months, two people (OMC CEO David Zechman and Baker Pharmacy Pharmacist Scotty Baker) have mentioned that Moody and Bozeman plan to retire soon.
"I do plan on continuing to do what I've been doing (running his clinic and admitting patients to FCH)," Moody said. "My 'impending retirement' has been much exaggerated. I have absolutely no plans to retire...for the foreseeable future."
The board will expect an update on the ER staffing problem at its next regular meeting, scheduled for January 21 at 6 p.m.