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Summa Health System staffing contract change jeopardizes residency program

Summa Health System abruptly terminated contract with Summa Emergency Associates, a separate, independent physician group, causing turmoil.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Summa Health campus, Akron, Ohio. Photo by <a href="">Summa Health.</a>Summa Health campus, Akron, Ohio. Photo by Summa Health.

The dawn of the new year has brought uncertainty to residents of Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio, as an abrupt change in the emergency department staffing contract left many residents without their mentors, pondering the future of their residencies.

At midnight on New Year's Eve, Summa declined to renew its contract with emergency room doctors from Summa Emergency Associates, a separate, independent physician group. On Jan. 1, about 60 doctors were replaced by a group of emergency physicians paid by Canton-based US Acute Care Solutions.

Summa said SEA had been making unreasonable demands, but declined specifics. Doctors, staff and residents at the system were given two days' notice about the contract and staffing change.

Alicia Kurtz, president of the Emergency Medicine Residents Association and a resident at USCF Fresno in California, said staffing contract changes usually allow for at least a month-long transition period -- usually longer -- and that the abruptness of the change at Summa has left its residents and the medical community scratching their collective heads.

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"The reason EMRA got involved is that basically, overnight, these 30 residents lost their faculty," said Kurtz. "They lost their mentors, their program director, all the people they relied on to help them become ER doctors in a few years. It's about the safety and integrity of the residency training. For us, the concern is that they left these residents very uncertain about the future of their program."

What has made the situation even more vexing for the residents, said Kurtz, is that they're still not sure who will replace the staff that had been training them, leaving them in an uncomfortable limbo.

"We've been able to talk to several members of that program," said Kurtz, "and right now they feel very left out and in the dark. They're doing their best to show up to their shifts and provide care for their patients, but they're just kind of waiting to see what's going to happen. It's already an emotionally, physically exhausting job. And now you don't know the future of your residency."

Other groups also weighed in, with the American College of Emergency Physicians President Becky Parker, MD, saying in a statement her group is "deeply concerned" about the future of the residency program.

"Hospitals and health systems change staffing contracts routinely," said Parker, "but what is not routine at Summa Health is the abruptness of the change. Typically, it takes 90 to 120 days for a transition to be completed, to allow for adjustments to personnel, schedules and infrastructure.

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"Residency is a critical part of any physician's education," she said, "and a clear plan, executed quickly by Summa Health, is crucial to residents' education, training and well-being."

Parker said that disruptions to residency training can have "damaging reverberations."

About 250 Summa physicians gave President and CEO Dr. Thomas Malone a vote of no confidence at an unscheduled medical staff meeting last week. More than 200 staff members later signed a letter to the health system's board of directors seeking Malone's resignation.

Summa's board responded with a statement saying it "supported the need to bring in the new emergency medicine provider. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure quality patient care and solidification of a strong environment during this important transition."

Twitter: @JELagasse

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