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For the week of September 6 through 12, 2000

Without equipment, surgeon leaves valley

She says politics killed breast care center


"The breast care center is something [volunteers and I] have been trying unsuccessfully to establish in the valley for years. What that would mean for patients is they could stay here and get state-of-the-art breast care, which is not available anywhere in the state of Idaho except for some places in Boise."

Dr. Alice Police

 


Jon Moses, the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center CEO, disputed Police’s allegations.

"There is absolutely no equipment that Police asked for that the hospital isn’t in the process of purchasing."


By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer

Dr. Alice Police, one of three general surgeons practicing in the Wood River Valley and performing procedures at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, said she closed her practice and left the area last month because she felt thwarted by the hospital administration in her attempts to create a much-needed breast care center here.

Police said she practiced in the valley for 10 years and was the area’s only breast care specialist.

"The frustrating thing about St. Luke’s," she said, "is I was led to believe for many years that they would be interested in [creating a breast care center]. I just realized in the last year that they were never going to do that."

In the last few months, she said, St. Luke’s administration told her "the community wasn’t really interested." During an Aug. 22 interview at her Indian Springs home, Police, 47, said she would be moving to Newport Beach, Calif., so she can work at a hospital that has the advanced breast-care equipment she needs.

She estimated her practice in the valley generated over $1 million a year in hospital billing, with about 40 percent of that coming from breast care patients. She said she treats 500 to 600 patients each year and operates on 50 percent to 60 percent of those.

"I did over twice as many surgical procedures as each of the other two general surgeons," she said.

She estimated the cost of a breast care center at less than $1 million—an amount she said local philanthropists had informally pledged to donate.

In an interview last week, Jon Moses, the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center CEO, disputed Police’s allegations. He said the hospital is buying the necessary equipment.

"There is absolutely no equipment that Police asked for that the hospital isn’t in the process of purchasing," Moses said.

For her part, Police said no one from St. Luke’s administration and no one on the hospital board of directors ever asked her why she decided to leave.

"The breast care center is something [volunteers and I] have been trying unsuccessfully to establish in the valley for years," she said. "What that would mean for patients is they could stay here and get state-of-the-art breast care, which is not available anywhere in the state of Idaho except for some places in Boise."

She said she has recently been attracting patients from Carey, Richfield, Fairfield, the Twin Falls area and Boise. Without the proper tools, however, she said she was unable to perform the advanced techniques she believes are essential to good medicine.

The equipment she believes is necessary includes a stereotactic biopsy device, which allows doctors to perform breast biopsies without an incision; a Neoprobe, which doctors use for lymph node sampling; and a dedicated ultrasound machine, used for breast imaging. She estimated the cost of the equipment to be between $110,000 and $150,000.

Police said construction would be the most expensive part of creating a center.

Police said her criticism of the hospital’s refusal to create the center is not directed at the Boise-based St. Luke’s organization; rather, she believes the problem lies with St. Luke’s Wood River Valley administration.

"I think if some of the higher-ups in the St. Luke’s organization knew what was going on, they’d be appalled—because I think they want financial success," she said. "I feel like it’s been one roadblock after another to try to develop what I think are good programs in the hospital."

She said she thinks St. Luke’s executives in Boise don’t realize that "very successful physicians with big practices are leaving" and they need to find out why.

"I think they see doctors as interchangeable, and that’s really not true here," she said.

Moses said that not only is the hospital buying the equipment Police asked for, but Police gave approval to a list of the planned acquisitions during a hospital meeting.

Moses said the equipment includes "breast imaging equipment" and other equipment, the specifics of which he couldn’t recall. He estimated that St. Luke’s is spending about $100,000 on the purchases.

"Alice Police was an integral part of developing the recommendation" to buy the equipment, he said, adding that there was clear consensus from everyone involved on what to buy.

"When asked, ‘Dr. Police, is there anything in this community you’d like to do that you can’t do with this equipment?’ she said, ‘No,’" Moses recalled.

Moses said also that St. Luke’s is building a mammography suite in its new hospital currently under construction south of Ketchum.

The new suite, she said, will be about four times the size of the existing, 240-square-foot setup and will have five rooms including a three-patient waiting room, a dressing room, an education room, an imaging room and a film developing room.

Hilary Furlong, Wood River Medical Center spokesperson, said the hospital is raising funds for the three pieces of equipment Police requested. She said the suite will house the hospital’s existing LoRad MIII imaging machine.

During a telephone interview on Friday from Huntington Beach, Calif., Police characterized St. Luke’s efforts as "too little, too late." She said that a mammography suite "would be one part of a breast care center." The other components include a consultation room, an ultrasound room and a biopsy room, she said.

#

Police is not the only doctor who says she can’t get needed equipment from St. Luke’s.

The valley’s only ophthalmologist, Dr. Stephen Graham, during an Aug. 16 interview at his Ketchum office, said the hospital has refused to purchase any of the equipment he has requested.

He said St. Luke’s rents the equipment he needs, but sometimes he and his patients must go to Twin Falls for access to the tools he needs.

Recently, St. Luke’s supplied him with a "non-functioning," used slit-lamp, he said—a standard emergency room device for viewing the inside of the eye that costs less than $5,000 new.

Moses said a part that will make the lamp work is "on its way."

Purchasing decisions made by the hospital administration, Graham said, "affect the medical decisions [doctors] make."

Moses claims Graham has never given the hospital a list of the equipment he needs.

#

Reflecting on recent events, Police said there is an apparent schism between the hospital administration and many doctors.

In all, five physicians closed their practices in the valley or failed to renew contracts with the hospital recently. They include Police, Dr. Patty Gaherty, Dr. Alison Shearer-Depp, Dr. Dennis Davis and Dr. Greg Taylor. Each of them worked as specialists in the valley from eight to 20 years.

Police said, "The problems [some of us] were having with the hospital were not the only reasons that we left. But there are some common factors among us that I think are important. I think [some of the doctors] ran up against unfair, frustrating situations with the administration that they felt like they couldn’t overcome."

Police said a "politically motivated investigation" of the anesthesia department this spring was, in her view, a "good example of unfair treatment" doctors had received. She alleged that a small group of doctors, in conjunction with the hospital administration, is attempting to control what goes on at the hospital through intimidation.

Moses said the anesthesia department "was not investigated. We appraise the contracts annually. That’s not an investigation. It was a very positive process."

Police was a neighbor and close friend of Gaherty, she said, and in her opinion, the "investigation" was the "last straw" for Gaherty and a major reason she left.

Police said one of the "gross inequities" she sees within the hospital involves bad physician behavior.

"It’s a bigger problem than any place I’ve ever worked," she said. "There are physicians that, because of their positions with other physicians and the administration, simply are not dealt with when their behavior is bad. I’m talking about yelling, screaming, physical intimidation used against other physicians and employees."

Police said several reports have been made about the abuse, but "commonly, the offender is not dealt with in any substantive way." Punishment, she said, can include a variety of sanctions up to removal of hospital privileges, but doesn’t.

Moses, who has been a hospital administrator for 15 years, discounts the idea that decisions in the hospital are made for political reasons.

"Sometimes when people don’t get what they want," he said, "they respond in less than honest ways."

 

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