Before going public with complaints about the quality of care at St. Mary's Hospital in the southern Illinois town of Centralia, Mark Murfin, M.D., thought hard about the backlash that could jeopardize his career.
"This is my home, and my wife basically told me if you run from this problem and don't try to fix it, then you're part of the problem," Dr. Murfin said.
Dr. Murfin and another surgeon, Bruce Frank, M.D., have raised questions about St. Mary's in news media interviews as well as in dozens of talks to service clubs. Now, the hospital wants to kick them off its staff, a possible death sentence for their practices.
Recently, more than 300 supporters showed up at the hospital holding signs saying, "Save Our Doctors."
Administrators at the 276-bed hospital deny the physicians' allegations of spotty quality, countering that St. Mary's has approval from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the major independent hospital review board.
St. Mary's spends thousands of hours a year reviewing quality, said Stanley Korducki, a hospital vice president.
Dr. Murfin said Medicare patients at St. Mary's are hospitalized 200% longer than the national average and some are admitted unnecessarily.
The hospital also doesn't have enough nurses and other staff members to tend to all patients' needs, the physicians say. Dr. Frank also said that tests were delayed and that patients waited too long for medicines or assistance.
In May, St. Mary's credentials committee voted to cut them off from the hospital for disruptive behavior. The physicians have appealed, but it could take months for a final ruling.
Meanwhile, Drs. Murfin and Frank say the full force of Centralia's second-largest employer is coming to bear on them. The two physicians say many hospital physicians have stopped referring patients to them.
However, the physicians have some support among colleagues.
Charles Fischer, M.D., said he also failed to get the hospital to improve patient care. In 1988, he founded Centralia's only outpatient surgical center-across the street from the hospital.
"These are two good, righteous men who are willing to sacrifice their careers," he said.