Memorial loses neurosurgical doctors

Colorado Springs Neurological Associates has ended its contract with Memorial Health System, leaving the city-owned hospital with only one pediatric neurosurgeon.

Despite the exodus, Memorial will maintain its Level II trauma center designation, said spokesman Chris Valentine.

The system is “pursing comprehensive neurosurgical coverage,” and views the change as “an opportunity for Memorial to further the program’s impact and community benefit,” he said.

Neurosurgical patients will be sent to other facilities, including Penrose-St. Francis Health Center. Penrose has five neurosurgeons under contract – an arrangement similar to the one that ended at Memorial.

The hospital has someone on call every night, said Jamie Smith, chief operating officer at Penrose.

“We are prepared,” he said. “We have enough neurosurgeons on staff that we can cover the needs of the entire community.”

Andrew Staphopulos, attorney for Colorado Springs Neurological Associates, said the group terminated its agreement because of “issues we had tried to work out with hospital administration.”

“These issues were not related to compensation, or to insurance,” he said. “We were resolved to work them out, and termination was only a last resort.”

Staphopulos declined to cite specific problems with the hospital.

 “I don’t want to air our grievances in the paper,” he said. “But they were significant enough to terminate our on-call coverage agreement.”

Colorado Springs Neurological Associates has served as on-call providers of neurosurgical care to Memorial for the past 50 years, he said.

“They’ve demonstrated their commitment to the community,” Staphopulos said. “And they are still committed. We still hope to work this out. We were in talks with the hospital right up until the end of the contract, and we tried to help them out during the past few days.”

Staphopulos said the group would be interested in continuing those talks, but no more discussions have been scheduled.

For its part, Memorial is looking for new neurological surgical contracts, said Dr. Manoj Pawar, chief medical officer. He said that changes to hospital structure and health care led to reliance on contracted care in many hospital areas.

“At one time, doctors jumped at the on-call opportunity,” said Pawar, who has been on the job since January. “But now the people who aren’t assigned a doctor are the ones without insurance. You take a big financial hit for that.”

Memorial views the loss of the contract as an “opportunity” to look at all its contracted services, he said.

“We are going to provide the best care we can, efficiently,” he said. “This is a chance to look at the way we do things and maybe change them.”