Soaring medical malpractice costs and Illinois' poisonous legal climate have led two neurosurgeons to announce the closure of their practices, possibly leaving their Carbondale-based hospital and much of the lower third of the state without the skills of any neurosurgeons.
Neurosurgeon Sumeer Lal, M.D., said he and his partner, Theo Mellion, M.D., have announced their intention to close their 14,000-patient practice thanks to the sudden escalation of malpractice insurance costs. A neurosurgeon in Illinois is sued an average of once every nine months, compared with once every three years or more in less litigious states, Lal said. Tom Firestone, M.D., president of Southern Illinois Healthcare, which owns Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and three other hospitals in the region, said the hospital offered to make both Lal and Mellion employees to assume their malpractice costs, but that wasn't enough to sway them.
Without the two neurosurgeons, emergency patients will be forced to use hospitals in Paducah, Ky., an hour's drive south, or St. Louis, two hours to the northwest, Firestone said. Meanwhile, the hospital is doing what it can to press for a legislative solution. Firestone says he called the governor's office pleading the region's case.
Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said the problem is on the governor's radar and he is preparing a reform package to address it. She would not give details, saying the proposed legislation is still being developed.