Sacred Heart fires 8 psychiatrists to cut costs and change care model

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center will lay off eight doctors caring for psychiatric patients, which is expected to save between $2 million and $4 million and help the hospital’s staff fill a need in the community outside of its doors.

“It’s a significant chunk,” said Dr. Daniel Getz, Chief Medical Officer at Sacred Heart. “But it’s important to remember that we’re adding positions backwards.

“A lot of what we’re doing is restructuring our current model of delivering behavioral health care.”

The eight doctors who will remain in the hospital through March while this reorganization takes place worked at the hospital but did not participate in a resident training program, Getz said. The reinstated posts are expected to work in all areas, including outpatient care.

Sacred Heart also plans to hire three postgraduate nurses for the staff that will care for psychiatric patients, Getz said. This reflects a national trend reported in Health Affairs magazine in Septemberin which Harvard University researchers found that between 2011 and 2019 nationally, the number of psychiatric nurses serving Medicare patients increased 162%, while the number of psychiatrists decreased 6%.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Getz said. “But it was the decision we need. If we had built the model today to meet the needs of the community, it would not resemble what we used to have.”

The fired doctors will be able to apply for positions after the reorganization, Getz said.

Getz acknowledged that Sacred Heart’s financial situation necessitated the decision. The hospital posted a $57 million loss in the first three months of 2022, the most recent quarter for which data is available from the Washington Department of Health, due in large part to increased spending during the pandemic and non-compliance with Medicaid -Reimbursement rates is attributed to rising healthcare costs.

These problems are not exclusive to Sacred Heart. The Washington Hospital Association last week released the results of a financial survey of the state’s health care facilities, with Washington hospitals reporting an operating loss of $1.6 billion in the first nine months of 2022.

“Things are incredibly difficult right now,” Susan Stacey, chief executive of the Providence Inland Northwest service area, which includes Spokane and Stevens counties, said during a news conference announcing the results Dec. 12. I’ve seen the state of the healthcare system in more than 35 years.”

The financial challenges also come in a year when Providence signed a $22.7 million settlement agreement to resolve a whistleblower complaint against two Walla Walla neurosurgeons and hundreds of Medicaid patients receiving treatment under a “unintentional error” was billed for granting a refund, according to the New York Times in September.

The money saved as part of the reorganization will be reinvested in other areas of the hospital to improve patient care, Getz said.

“It allows us to better spread our resources across the spectrum so we don’t have to make difficult changes,” he said. The hospital currently has no plans to halt services, he added.

Nor should the staffing changes signal that the hospital intends to close its mental health services, Getz said, calling them an “imperative necessity.”

“We really do have a broad presence in Spokane and we care about that community,” he said, “and we’re committed to maintaining that presence. We just had to find a way to fund it as times are short.” Sacred Heart fires 8 psychiatrists to cut costs and change care model

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