Dr. Jerry Smith, Grand Forks, column: Nothing healthy about GF’s hospital politicsIn North Dakota, Verizon was not allowed to buy Alltel because it would have created a monopoly. Why is it that one hospital can buy another and create a monopoly?
By: Dr. Jerry Smith,
By Jerry Smith
GRAND FORKS — I went to medical school in Tulsa, Okla. There were five hospitals in town. Four of these were large, full service hospitals with heart programs, neurosurgery, trauma service and many other departments. The fifth hospital was a smaller facility called Doctors Hospital.
This smaller hospital was busy, well-respected and run by the people who gave the care — the doctors. They did not take much business from the large facilities, and they did not try to. Their focus was to care for the general medical and surgical needs of their patient population.
When I finished residency, I moved to a medium-sized town in the Northeast where there were two hospitals, one large and one smaller. The hospitals did not work together at all, but they peacefully coexisted, and each recognized the strengths and weaknesses of the other.
The smaller hospital had been started more than 50 years earlier by a group of osteopathic physicians, who were discriminated against because of their degree. They built a very fine hospital that functioned much like the Doctors Hospital in Tulsa. They had a role and performed it well.
Even after the larger hospital allowed all licensed physicians, regardless of degree, to be on staff, the smaller hospital thrived because it offered an atmosphere that the larger hospital did not. It offered a quality choice and made health care better for all in the community.
Physicians and staff worked at either or both of the facilities, and I never heard of either hospital firing a physician or staff member or family of a physician or staff member because they would affiliate with the other institution.
When I moved back to the Midwest, I practiced in a town where three hospitals had been active. By the time I got there, all three had been merged into one larger facility.
One group had gotten greedy and bought out the two smaller facilities, thinking it would capture more of the market. But what really happened was the move took away choice from the residents. The group failed to recognize that one brand does not satisfy all patrons.
And as a result, the new single hospital lost, the community lost, and the patients lost. Many of the patients who had been loyal to one or the other of the former hospitals went to a larger town more than 70 miles away for their primary care and hospital needs. They chose to travel quite a distance because of their dissatisfaction.
Then I moved to Grand Forks. The move was to help a new hospital get off the ground and offer an alternative source of health care in a growing community.
I had no financial stake in the endeavor, but I felt deeply that it could add a dimension to Grand Forks that could be very beneficial.
From the beginning, I realized there were financial interests in the hospital that conflicted with the medical interests. I still was naive enough to think that ultimately, all involved parties would work together to accomplish a worthwhile goal of opening a new and different hospital in Grand Forks. I waited 2½ years for that to occur.
I watched a phenomenon that I had not previously witnessed in the towns where I had lived. I saw an established hospital try to prevent the development of the new facility. I saw an established hospital intimidate employees by firing them or taking other job action if they or their family members were associated with the new facility.
I certainly had seen noncooperation before, but outright defiance and intimidation? That was new.
An outside corporation came into town and took over the new hospital, outfitted it, staffed it and prepared to open it. The corporate leaders invested several million dollars to accomplish this, and on one recent Friday, they got permission from the state to open it.
That same day, the established hospital bought the building and drove out the new corporation that had just invested heavily in Grand Forks. That company has lost most of its investment and has had to let go its new staff, its equipment, its supplies and the physicians who had been brought in to work at the new hospital.
Many have lost. In North Dakota, Verizon was not allowed to buy Alltel because it would have created a monopoly. Why is it that one hospital can buy another and create a monopoly?
Somehow, it does not seem that justice has been served.
Altru Hospital lives, and Doctors Hospital dies. Now, Altru is asking the city to support its bid to issue $130 million worth of bonds. Doctors Hospital was ready to open without asking the community for financial help. It was ready to serve, not be served.
Does anyone else think there’s something wrong with this situation?
Dr. Smith is an osteopathic physician and general surgeon. He sees patients at Aurora Clinic in Grand Forks.