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Hospital hopes to deliver baby doctor

Hiring a second obstetrician for Whidbey General will not only relieve worried future moms, it will likely continue to pump about $1.2 million into hospital coffers.

Scott Rhine, hospital CEO, will recommend hiring a second OB/GYN to hospital commissioners when they meet Sept. 12.

Dr. Kenton L. Sizemore is leaving the island at the end of September. Dr. Lucie Riederer will be the lone obstetrician. And she plans to discontinue gynecological surgeries other than Cesarian sections and tubal ligations.

Delivering about 200 babies annually costs the hospital about $700,000 in unmet expenses.

“But we feel this is a very important service because of our island location and transportation issues,” Rhine told a small group attending a health forum Wednesday night.

The hospital wants to retain the extra $1.2 million it now gets from Medicaid for meeting requirements that two OB/GYNs are on staff. The hospital receives a higher reimbursement in recognition that small rural hospitals serve a disproportionate number of low-income families, Rhine said.

Rhine also will recommend the commissioners move ahead to win “critical access” designation for the hospital from the federal government.

The bottom line on this recommendation is the feds pay one percent above costs for services rendered to Medicare patients. The move could add between $1.5 million and $2 million to the hospital’s revenue stream.

The difficulty is meeting the requirement that the hospital have no more than 25 patients staying in the hospital on any given day. The hospital is licensed for 51 beds.

The answer appears to be diverting patients to other hospitals if there’s an overload. It’s not a new development. Last year, 21 patients were diverted to other hospitals, Rhine said.

If Whidbey General wins “critical access,” it will join United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley and Jefferson Memorial in Port Townsend, two of 37 hospitals in the state that have won the designation.

The extra money from the feds could help lure the medical specialists Whidbey islanders need.

The medical staff at Whidbey General includes 55 licensed physicians. Two years ago the hospital was able to recruit eight doctors, but now four are leaving for reasons that include high malpractice insurance costs, low reimbursement rates for their services and excessive on-call hours.

Dr. Jerald Sanders, an Oak Harbor family practitioner, was in the audience. He explained how it is impossible for family doctors to deliver babies these days. In addition to the insurance costs, there’s the difficulty of not delivering a high enough volume of babies to either to make it pay or stay proficient.

Few of the 40 people at the health forum Wednesday night at Oak Harbor Senior Center were unconnected to medical service providers on the island, so there was virtually no public comment on the proposals.

There is one more meeting that will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the hospital.

Rhine said island residents will have to decide what’s most important to them in terms of medical services. In his opinion, the priorities are hiring an OB/GYN, an orthopedic surgeon and a urologist.

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