Hospital signs new ER director

Whidbey General Hospital received an unexpected benefit from skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs.

That particular medical crisis made it possible for the hospital to hire Dr. Jim Martin as director of the hospital’s emergency room.

As of several months ago, Martin was an emergency room doctor at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon. However, the group that supplied that hospital, North Cascade Emergency Physicians, saw their malpractice insurance more than double in one year. When the group lost its carrier, Martin found himself out of work.

The increasing burden caused by the insurance rates left Martin questioning whether he could continue practicing medicine. He thought of going into the teaching profession.

However, he decided to give emergency room medicine one more chance. He signed on with Northwest Emergency Physicians, and he applied for the ER director position at Whidbey General.

Martin said he enjoys emergency medicine because of the immediate impact the work brings to people’s lives.

“When you have an 18-year-old in a car accident, you can make a difference right away,” Martin said.

Martin originally studied internal medicine, but decided emergency medicine was a more challenging endeavor.

He started work Friday at Whidbey General’s emergency room. As director, he plans to work with the hospital staff to develop procedures to help guide them through situations that may not provide any clear-cut solutions.

He takes over an emergency room that has seen expansion in recent years both in the size of the facility and the numbers of people who use it.

As part of the recent hospital renovation, the emergency room was expanded from seven beds to 13 beds. Last year, more than 14,000 people used the emergency room, up from 9,000 three years ago.

John Bitting, emergency room manager, attributed the increase to the growing island population and increasing number of people who are not able to find a primary care physician. That forces them to head to the emergency room for treatment.

Martin added there are doctors that have stopped taking Medicare patients because the reimbursement rate is dropping and it isn’t profitable anymore. Such patients then seek emergency room for treatment.

Martin added that it puts more stress on doctors because Medicare patients often have a long, complicated medical history that they have to learn.

He added that the emergency room could see more elderly patients as the population grows and more people come to the island to retire.

To help ease the workload during peak times, Martin wants to hire a physician’s assistant. He said that would also improve the care patients receive.

Northwest Emergency Physicians provides emergency room coverage to various hospitals throughout the Puget Sound area.

Martin said having such a large pool of doctors available helps with malpractice insurance and can help cover emergency rooms in case of staffing shortages. For example, he recently found himself in Bellingham covering for another doctor.

Whidbey General’s emergency room staff five full-time doctors, four part-time doctors along with some 35 nurses and ward clerks.

Martin takes over his new job from doctor Mark Harris, who left Whidbey General Hospital in February to assume a similar position in Tacoma. Harris was also affiliated with Northwest Emergency Physicians.

Whidbey General Hospital CEO Scott Rhine said that Martin was hired because of his experience and the positive information garnered from his references.

Martin spent the past three years at Skagit Valley Hospital. He did his emergency room residency at the University of Pennsylvania.

He is also a newlywed, marrying his long time girlfriend, Gina, last September.

“I asked her nine years in a row before she said yes,” Martin said.

He is currently living in Anacortes but he hopes to eventually move to Whidbey Island.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at

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