SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center is making a shift in how it bills patients and employs doctors. The hospital is partnering up with a private staffing company which it says will not change the patient experience. 

Story continues below:

A hospital employee currently working as an ER doctor wanted to stay anonymous and said he won’t have this job for long. In September, doctors learned that come January 31 their contracts with Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center will be terminated. “This was a big surprise. And there had been some problems. In the previous six months, the hospital leadership had started cutting our staffing levels, so cutting doctor staffing, cutting nursing staffing in the ER.”

Staff will have the option to sign on with the private company the hospital is now partnering with, a staffing firm called Sound Physicians. They say this shift will allow the medical center to focus recruitment efforts on adding more specialists to the team. 

But some doctors have concerns about the move. One doctor said, “They are for-profit incorporated organizations. They’ve been very popular with private equity investors. We have more ethical qualms with working for such a company.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Washington-based provider paid $14.5 million to settle allegations that it over-billed Medicare and other federal healthcare programs in 2013. “We know how they tend to increase their revenue with exploitative billing practices, aggressive billing practices, in some cases may be illegal billing practices,” the doctor continued. 

Hospital leaders didn’t directly answer questions regarding the fraud allegations against Sound Physicians but Presbyterian Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Johnsen say he doesn’t anticipate this partnership will increase costs for patients. 

Presbyterian currently partners with Sound Physicians in other hospitals within the system including Rust Medical Center.

Statement from Tim Johnsen, senior vice president and chief operating officer, Presbyterian Delivery System:

“At Presbyterian, like many hospitals across our state and nation, we use staffing agencies and external partners in our facilities to ensure that the community has access to care when they need it most. For example, radiology, lab and anesthesiology services are provided by independent physician groups for most hospitals in our state. Our commitment to the community we serve is to provide consistent, quality care to our patients and these partnerships offer additional ways to support that commitment.
With this in mind, we’re partnering with Sound Physicians, a physician staffing firm with a 20-year track record in recruiting, developing and retaining clinicians for health systems across the country, so that we can continue to consistently provide physician coverage in our Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center Emergency Department and hospitalist services. Presbyterian currently partners with Sound Physicians in other hospitals in our system, including a strong collaboration with Presbyterian Rust Medical Center for many years. This new partnership will allow SFMC’s recruitment efforts to focus on adding more specialists to our team to meet the unique needs of the community.
We anticipate that this partnership will not result in increased costs for our patients.”