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Only one baby doctor left on Whidbey

As the number of babies born at Whidbey General Hospital is increasing, the number of doctors available to deliver them is decreasing.

There will soon be only one obstetrician/gynecologist serving Whidbey Island soon and hospital officials are scrambling to find a solution.

Two ob/gyns are currently working on Whidbey Island, however, one of the doctors, Dr. Kenton Sizemore, is moving to the Tri-Cities area at the end of September. He decided to make the move to be closer to family and to work in a larger practice.

Hospital officials found Sizemore’s replacement earlier in the year when Dr. John Eggers agreed to move back to the area. He practiced medicine on the island from 1999 to 2002 and has worked in Arlington since then.

That plan fell through, however, because skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums made it too expensive for him to practice full time.

In a Thursday morning interview, Eggers, who has practiced medicine since 1985, said his malpractice insurance cost $70,000 this year, which is up from $25,000 in 2002. He predicts his premium could rise to $150,000 in three years. He said that insurance rates go up as doctors gain experience.

“The more people you see the more likely you are to be sued,” Eggers said.

If he waited to retire, he runs the risk of having to pay $250,000 for “tail coverage.” That insurance would protect him against future lawsuits. For him to walk away now, he has to pay $40,000 in tail coverage.

He still plans on practicing medicine. He hopes to work with a company that provides fill-in coverage for doctors. He is also interviewing for a job selling electronic medical records equipment.

Scott Rhine, CEO of Whidbey General Hospital, said that malpractice insurance is high for obstetricians. They pay $60,000 to $100,000 a year while a general surgeon may pay $20,000 to 40,000 a year.

He said that insurance for obstetricians is higher because children are involved, the period for discovering any complications is longer and such complications can last the lifetime of a child.

The loss of a second ob/gyn comes at a time when more babies are being born at Whidbey General Hospital. If the hospital’s projections are accurate, approximately 260 babies will be born by the end of the year. That number is up from 202 in 2004.

With the loss of Sizemore and his replacement, Dr. Lucie Riederer is the only baby doctor left on Whidbey Island.

“It’s hard but I have to manage somehow,” Riederer said, adding she is committed to staying on Whidbey Island. She wants both of her children to graduate from high school in Coupeville.

The Whidbey General Hospital Board spent approximately an hour discussing the problem during its Monday evening meeting.

Rhine said that options for Eggers’ replacement range from recruiting another obstetrician and providing an income guarantee until a practice is established, to hiring an obstetrician and having the hospital take responsibility for insurance. Hospital officials are also considering nurse midwives to help with births.

To help decide the best course of action, the hospital is forming a committee to explore options. Residents will have the chance to comment on the situation when a community forum takes place at a later date.

Rhine said he wants to have a solution in the next 30 to 60 days, before Sizemore leaves the island.

Even though the number of births at Whidbey General Hospital is increasing, officials consider the volume relatively low.

The hospital actually loses money with obstetrical services. It is projected to lose about $800,000 this year.

Despite the money loss in this area, the public hospital’s overall budget is breaking even as of May. Rhine said that other services such as outpatient services, diagnostic imaging and rehabilitation services make up money lost by obstetrical services. The hospital is budgeted to bring in $52,030,000 in 2005 and is budgeted to spend $50,332,000.

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