DALLAS (AP) _ A new study says that Parkland Memorial Hospital's ability to respond to the needs of patients has been hampered by the emphasis of its partner -- the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center -- on training doctors.
The county-commissioned study cited a wide range of situations in which patients appeared to wait needlessly. The study, which will be reviewed publicly at the county commissioners' meeting Tuesday, said that sick people wait an average of 13 hours to be admitted through Parkland's emergency room.
"Almost all of these patients are ultimately admitted but only after a prolonged and, from the perspective of the patient, unnecessary delay in a noisy and crowded area," said the 111-page report done by Health Management Associates, a Michigan-based consulting firm.
In Parkland's operating rooms, "doctors who need to experience certain kinds of surgeries in their training, will often look for the most 'interesting' cases, leaving general surgeries behind," the report stated. "It is very difficult, for example, to schedule a routine gallbladder or hernia operation in Parkland."
The study added that chronically ill people must wait for months to see specialists because certain hospital clinics are open only one or two days a week.
UT Southwestern leaders blame patient delays on overcrowded conditions that have long characterized the 110-year-old public hospital, which has been a partner with the school for 60 years.
Although Parkland is nationally recognized as an outstanding public hospital, the current emphasis on medical education has hurt "the ability of Parkland to effectively and efficiently respond to the health care needs of its patients," concluded the $900,000 study.
Kern Wildenthal, M.D., president of UT Southwestern, told the Dallas Morning News for today's editions that he was "disappointed and surprised" at some of the report's conclusions.
"There's no doubt that this is a system overwhelmed by a large number of patients," he said. "A lot of inefficiencies at Parkland, including long wait times and access problems, are not occurring because we think it's useful for educational purposes. It's just the only way to cope."
Growing crowds at Parkland and the hospital's rising costs were the main reasons the Dallas County Commissioners Court ordered the study in May.
The elected officials said they wanted to know more about the people who use the public hospital and to find ways to attract more state and federal dollars to support it. Local taxpayers will contribute about $329 million, almost 40 percent, of Parkland's $823 million budget this fiscal year.
County Judge Margaret Keliher, who leads the court, said Friday that she was pleased the study had given the commissioners a road map by which to address the hospital's problems and future growth.
Among its recommendations, the report calls appointing a "blue ribbon panel" of healthcare, business and civic leaders to develop a master plan for Parkland's development, including how to pay for a new hospital.
It also recommends that Parkland needs to hire a chief operating officer, a position that has been vacant for a year.
The report said that the affiliation agreement between Parkland and UT Southwestern needs to be rewritten and medical leadership, cost reimbursement and other issues need to be addressed.
And the report recommends that the medical school policies, procedures and clinical resources that appear to have a detrimental effect on the hospital be readdressed.
Ron Anderson, M.D., Parkland's president and chief executive officer, said it was time to address the question of hiring physician specialists who would supplement the residents' work and possibly improve patient access to care.
Anderson, who was reluctant to criticize the job UT Southwestern was doing, said many medical schools are struggling to balance physician training and timely patient care.
"Our partnership with the medical school has been a wonderful asset for Parkland," he said. "But we probably need to hire a dedicated medical staff who will run the hospital's clinics every day. I'm willing to explore that."
Wildenthal said he supported operational changes at Parkland that would ease patient admissions, but opposed hiring specialists to work alongside the residents and UT Southwestern faculty, predicting that would prove to be "dysfunctional."