ABERDEEN, S.D.-A turf war is raging between a South Dakota community hospital and a local physician group that recently opened a competing surgical center.
The latest round came late last month when a state judge refused to order Avera St. Luke's in Aberdeen to let a member of the medical group apply for staff privileges.
Following a hearing, South Dakota Circuit Court Judge Larry Lovrien denied a preliminary injunction requested by John Mahan, M.D., and the group, Orthopedic Surgery Specialists, ruling they were unlikely to win at trial.
Mahan and his seven-physician practice filed suit last year, alleging the 140-bed hospital violated its own bylaws and breached public interest by closing its medical staff to applicants for orthopedic surgery privileges, except for two general orthopedic surgeons the hospital was recruiting.
At the time of the June 1997 decision to limit its medical staff, the hospital was attempting to recruit neurosurgeons, who were reluctant to move to the community unless they could supplement their incomes by performing back and spine surgeries, according to court records.
Four doctors in the orthopedic group are investors in the Dakota Plains Surgical Center, an eight-bed facility that opened in April 1998.
The surgical center wants only profitable cases, said Avera St. Luke's President and Chief Executive Officer Dale Stein. He said its operation could force Avera St. Luke's to reduce or eliminate unprofitable services in the one-hospital town.
The surgical center is an "enhancement to the medical community," said Chuck Livingston, CEO of the facility and of Orthopedic Surgery Specialists. The facility keeps patients from going to tertiary centers in Sioux Falls, S.D., or Fargo, N.D., he said. But he acknowledged that patients with certain complicated conditions are better treated at a full-service hospital, such as Avera St. Luke's.
The plaintiffs are considering appealing Lovrien's denial of a preliminary injunction, Livingston said.
Avera St. Luke's posted net income of about $5.4 million on revenues of $90 million for the year ended Sept. 30, 1998, Stein said.