Mercy Hospital Gaining, Losing Under ER Plan

Valley City’s Mercy Hospital is losing all its physicians assistants at the same time it has reached an arrangement so that a physician will be in the building at all times to ensure full care in the Emergency Room, said Keith Heuser, hospital administrator, Tuesday.

Heuser said that Mercy has decided to contract with a specialty ER coverage service. This service will provide doctors trained in emergency services in the Mercy ER 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This, in conjunction with the electronic/video system that links the Mercy ER with emergency room specialists in Avera Health, Sioux Falls S.D., will provide a more updated response in the ER.

Heuser said that few people realize that Mercy hospital is a Level IV trauma center. This designation places greater responsibility on the facility to ensure that specific trauma treatment training of all the Emergency Room nurses takes place, that the ER is staffed by physicians and that specific response times in the ER are met. Until recently, the level IV physician requirements have been filled and met by the local medical staff.

“The residents of Barnes County and surrounding areas do not realize how fortunate they have been to have as committed a group of physicians as we have in Valley City. They have sacrificed their personal and family time to provide top notch care in our Emergency Room at no cost to the hospital or community,” Heuser said.

Heuser said things are changing partially in response to the demands of emergency room coverage on a smaller medical staff. He said the change will give the medical staff time away from worrying about ER coverage and to ensure that there is 100 percent coverage of the ER by a physician. The move is also a reflection of the responses received as part of Mercy’s patient satisfaction system. “Patients in the ER have expressed a desire to see the physician more quickly and to better understand the care they receive in our ER. This is a major step to meeting and exceeding those expectations.”

Heuser said moving away from the model that allowed the hospital to use physician assistants is the most difficult part of the change. “These midlevel providers were a great asset to the hospital and very highly regarded health care providers in the community. Their commitment to this community and to exceptional healthcare services was invaluable. They were the core of our Emergency Room treatment team and we are extremely grateful for their service here.”

However, said Heuser, “In the long run it (the change) will be very positive for the medical staff.”

The target date for getting the new arrangement into to operation is May 1. Heuser said all Mercy physician assistants were told about the plans early, and all were offered other employment within the CHI system, the corporate parent of Mercy Hospital. Heuser said no Mercy physician assistants decided to accept the offer.

“By providing the ER coverage using a contract service it allows the local physicians to spend more time in their clinics seeing their regular patients. This improves their responsiveness to their own patients and patient satisfaction. It also improves the quality of life for the local physicians and improves recruitment of outside physicians to our community because they don’t have to take call. This is a major source of dissatisfaction for physicians in smaller communities that cannot afford the more expensive ER contract services. Physicians who are looking to make career changes often look for communities that do not have an ER call commitment. This is a very exciting change for the hospital and demonstrates its commitment to the medical staff and to improving services and responsiveness to the community.”