Leaders from Summa Health System and Summa Emergency Associates, the independent physician group that staffed the system's emergency departments until this month, agree on this: Contract negotiations, which ultimately broke down days before the deadline, could have started sooner.
Both say they entered negotiations in early November fully expecting to have SEA clinicians staffing all five of Summa's emergency departments in 2017 and years to come.
Beyond that, the two agree on little about how negotiations played out.
Upon reaching a stalemate in the last week of December, Summa solicited proposals from other companies that could, within days, have enough doctors available at midnight on New Year's — an unnecessary move, said Dr. Jeff Wright, SEA president and ER physician. But Summa leaders say it was their only option.
Officials at US Acute Care Solutions (USACS) — which has been staffing the EDs since SEA's contract expired Dec. 31 — thought Summa and the SEA group that has provided emergency services there for decades would reach an agreement.
Dr. Thomas Malone, Summa president and CEO, said it was a tough decision. Realizing they were at an impasse, he brought on USACS at the last minute to staff Summa's Barberton, Akron, Wadsworth-Rittman, Green and Medina emergency departments.
"I don't think they thought we could do it," Malone said. "It was horribly disruptive to the organization, unbelievably disruptive to the ED staff, to the patients the first couple of days because they had longer waits. But because of the hard work of the staff, mostly the nurses, the credentialing staff (and) IT, we were able to pull that off, and every day it's been better."
The wait times have returned to normal, and patient volumes have remained steady, said Valerie Gibson, chief operating officer of Summa and president of Summa Health System hospitals.
But that hasn't appeased concerned practitioners and patients.
Summa leaders, its board and many of the system's department chairs support the decision and stand on one side of what has become a very public and contentious debate. Facing them is a sea of unhappy community members, fed-up physicians — hundreds of whom have signed a no-confidence letter — and other groups weighing in.