A physician left the Fulton County Hospital as scheduled, and the director of the Emergency Room stepped down from his position at the end of 2012, but a temporary solution has been found to keep the emergency room operating 24 hours a day.
Two physicians from private staffing companies have signed short term contracts to provide Emergency Room coverage until a more permanent solution can be found, and at least one physician at the Ozarks Medical Center is seeking a temporary Arkansas medical license to work at the FCH emergency room.
According to Hospital Administator Tony Thompson, Dr. Dennis Burrow and Dr. James Laundry, who work for private medical staffing companies in Little Rock, were hired through the efforts of Colleen Schmidt, the Director of Physician Recruitment at OMC, which manages the local hospital.
The ER staffing problem was revealed at the Dec. 17 meeting of the FCH Board of Governors, when Dr. Jim Bozeman announced that Dr. Russell Zapeda, who had staffed the ER on weekdays, had given notice of his intention to move to Texas, and Dr. Griffin Arnold was also ceasing to work a Monday shift in the ER after Jan. 1.
Dr. Bozeman then announced he had decided to resign as ER Director because, considering the new limitations, he could not figure out how to keep the ER staffed around the clock.
""I've always made it work in the past but I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Bozeman told the board. "We'll have to look for other sources (of staffing)."
While Bozeman did step down as ER director after 12 years, he continues to work ER shifts, and see patients at his office and admit patients to the hospital.
"Dr. Bozeman has served as Fulton County Hospital Emergency Room Director loyally and well, often single-handedly, for many years. I think it is safe to say that FCH might not be here today if not for the leadership of Dr. Bozeman and physicians like him who have shown extraordinary dedication to patient care," Thompson said.
Besides Bozeman, local physicians, Dr. Adam Gray, Dr. Arnold and Dr. Rebecca Phillips continue to work ER shifts.
Before the temporary ER doctors were hired, Bozeman had suggested that a private company which specializes in staffing emergency rooms may have to be hired. Bozeman and Thompson were to meet with one company Bozeman was familiar with, which provides ER staff for hospitals in Harrison, Ark. and Branson, Mo.
Without giving details, Thompson indicated he has been in discussions with an Emergency Department staffing company which provides a guarantee of Emergency Room staffing on an on-going basis.
According to Thompson, the ideal situation would be to recuit a physician who would live and work in Salem, but that will be difficult to quickly accomplish in that only about six percent of medical school graduates wish to live in rural areas.
The reality is, hiring a private company may have to be the solution, for now, to keep the ER open around the clock.
"Our goal is to have permanent, qualified physicians in our ER," Thompson said.
OMC's Colleen Schmidt added, "Prior to the completion of our new Emergency Department in 2010, OMC used an ER stafffing company for several years. They are an excellent alternative during the time when a permanent physician is not available. We have shared the names of the best firms with FCH to aid in their search."
A downside that some board members have mentioned is a likely increase in cost to operate the emergency room, if a private staffing company is hired.
An update on ER staffing is sure to be a topic of the January hospital board meeting scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28. The meeting will take place in the hospital conference room at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.