Seneca Board votes on first ER physician pay increase in more than ten years

Samantha P. Hawthorne
Staff Writer

Seneca Healthcare District board members held their regular monthly meeting, Aug. 30.

Newly appointed chief executive officer Linda Wagner, proposed an update to the emergency room (ER) physician service agreement.

The proposed changes would increase and standardize ER physicians’ compensation rate, resulting in an additional cost to the district of $228,000 annually. The new hourly rate would be increased by almost a third of their current wages.

Prior to the resolution, physicians were paid a fluctuating hourly rate of $62.52 on weekdays and $75 on weekends. A comment was made that it has been at least 10 years since the physicians received a raise.

By increasing wages for ER doctors, Wagner hopes to attract and contract with more independent ER physicians. In doing so, the currently staffed physicians would be able to focus their time in the clinic, and in turn, be able to provide care to more patients.

Although the increase would result in additional expenses not accounted for in the 2013 budget, Wager said patients would not be affected by the change.

“By having more coverage in the clinic we will be able to care for more patients, which would increase our revenue,” speculated Wagner.

Wagner’s decision to introduce the revised agreement was brought about by a recent emergency when the emergency department was short staffed.

The two independently contracted physicians who are normally used in such a situation were not available. As a result, there were only three physicians left to cover the ER.

“This has happened before,” said Wagner, “Those physicians left to cover work hard to keep the clinic up and running. They have been wonderful.”

The increase would also help Seneca maintain its current staff of emergency department physicians, and relieve those who carry extra shifts during such emergencies.

One physician whose contract is about to expire has threatened to leave Seneca if he does not receive a more favorable rate.

“If there was no increase, we would lose our doctors and then have to close the ER,” said Wagner.

When met with opposition from assistant secretary Richard Rydell, Dr. Dana Ware voiced her agreement with the revision.

“Seven years ago Seneca was one of the least paid hospitals in the country, and because of this, we had terrible doctors. You get what you pay for,” said Ware.

“We do not have enough doctors. The sleep depredation from covering extra shifts is too much. Working conditions this summer have been very difficult for those of us left to cover,” said Ware.

“We cannot make up the additional calls that would result from a doctor quitting because of not getting the wages he asked for,” said Chief of Staff Christopher Ward D.O.

“You cannot even consider this a raise. The proposed increase is still less than competitive,” said Wagner.

Before deciding on the new hourly rate, the board reviewed bids collected from four emergency physician agencies. The average rate came out to $195 an hour.

Although a big leap from the previous rates, the proposed increase would still be significantly lower than a competitor’s rates.

“The currently staffed physicians are providing good value for our money, and they are doing it at less than standard rates,” said Wagner.

“I believe, that as long as it is agreeable with our physicians, the proposed figure is a reasonable value,” said board treasurer David Slusher.

On a split vote — 4-1, Rydell opposing — the board passed the updated emergency room physician service agreement.

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