Citing public demand for accountability, a hospital in Hammond, Ind., is standing behind its decision to replace 11 heart surgeons whose coronary bypass patients died at a higher than normal rate.
Executives at 657-bed Saint Margaret Mercy Healthcare Centers have since come under fire from the Lake County (Ind.) Medical Society, a physicians organization to which the heart surgeons belong. Saint Margaret replaced the 11 independent physicians this month with Oak Lawn, Ill.-based Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgical Associates.
Last year, the mortality rate for bypass operations in Lake County was 8.3%-twice the national average of 4%.
The new medical group has a 3.6% mortality rate. The hospital hired it after 18 months of reviewing bids from six medical groups in the Midwest. Hospital officials declined to estimate the value of the cardiac-care contract.
"Quality was the primary motivator in our decision, but when your quality improves your costs come down," said Renee Hlavaty, vice president of professional services at Saint Margaret, which serves 500,000 people in northwest Indiana and the southern Chicago suburbs. "Some patients were referred to Chicago, and there could be a lot more of that in the future."
The hospital also feared managed-care companies and third-party payers might frown on the old group as a preferred provider for cardiac care.
Physicians performed 193 bypass operations at Saint Margaret last year.
The Lake County Medical Society's board held a special meeting last week to discuss the matter. The physicians are considering legal action.
"We need to make a determination whether what was done could be done," said Dan Hill, the group's executive director. "We need to look at the procedures of a physician's practice rights."
Executives at Saint Margaret said they have bid out other hospital services such as emergency care. "This has happened at other places, and it will happen at other places again," Hlavaty said.