Letter angers Natchez Regional CEO

Published 11:27 pm Monday, August 18, 2008

NATCHEZ — A recently circulated letter has left administrators at Natchez Regional Medical Center extremely upset.

Those who originated the letter say they were only trying to be cautious.

The letter, sent by certified mail, arrived at NRMC on Friday afternoon.

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Hospital CEO Scott Phillips said when first saw the letter on Friday night he was shocked.

The letter was signed by Natchez Community Hospital’s ER Medical Director, Dr. Mike Wheelis and Community’s Chief of Staff Dr. Danita Weary.

In it the two doctors allege the emergency room at NRMC was left unstaffed and a patient was turned away as a result.

Natchez Community’s CEO Tim Trottier said he was aware of the letter and supported the effort.

It reads in part: “The situation to which we are referring is the continued recurrence of unstaffed physician shifts in the Emergency Department at Natchez Regional Medical Center.” It continues, “They (the patient) were informed by ‘a nurse’ that there was no physician and that they would have to go somewhere else to receive emergency care.”

For a pdf of the letter sent to Scott Phillips, CEO of Natchez Regional, from Dr. Mike Wheelis and Dr. Danita Waery from Natchez Community Hospital click on the following link: Natchez Community letter

“It is completely without factual basis,” he said.

Not only has Phillips taken issue with the letter’s content, he said he disapproves of the way the entire matter was handled.

Phillips first questioned the legitimacy of the claim and the timeline of the letter.

The incident was said to have happened on Aug. 3 yet the letter was not written for 10 days.

“If they were concerned they could have called or just sent an e-mail,” he said. “And that could have been the end of it.”

For a pdf of the letter of response sent from Scott Phillips, CEO of Natchez Regional, to Natchez Community Hospital CEO Tim Trottier click on the following link: Natchez Regional response
Phillips said the letter is completely wrong.

Phillips said the patient in question has been tracked down and did received treatment at NRMC.

“The entire allegation is without basis,” he said.

In particular Phillips said he, nor any member of the hospital’s management team with the exception of Dr. Kenneth Stubbs, was provided a copy of the letter.

Instead, the letter was sent to the Adams County Board of Supervisors, Natchez Community Hospital’s Board of Trustees, NRMC’s Board of Trustees and two local ambulance companies.

Wheelis said the letter was sent to the supervisors and the NRMC board to keep them informed of the situation.

NRMC’s board President Dan Bland said he first saw the letter on Monday.

“It appeared to be very inaccurate,” he said. “And very unprofessional.”

Wheelis said he was concerned because the two boards, in the past, were unaware of mismanagement at the hospital.

“They have an absolute right to know,” he said.

In addition to everything else Phillips said he was particularly upset because there was no attempt made to substantiate the story that spawned the letter.

Wheelis agreed.

“We did not back it up, that’s why we wrote the letter,” he said. “If there’s no merit that’s great.”

Phillips said the letter launched an investigation where timesheets and logs prove the ER was never without physician staffing over a period of at least one year.

And while Phillips said he was very angry with the letter, he is even more concerned about the possible repercussions.

“If someone passes the hospital and they die (because the they think the ER’s closed) that’s almost criminal,” he said. “There’s no excuse for this!”

And exactly who penned the letter is a bit of a mystery.

Wheelis said he wrote the letter.

However Stubbs said Wheelis told him the letter was written by Trottier and was given to Wheelis and Weary to sign.

As for Phillips, he has written his own letter demanding a retraction.

“Frankly, I expected a much higher level of professionalism and conduct from the leadership of an HMA owned and managed hospital,” Phillips said in his response.

And copied on Phillips’ letter — the directors of Health Management Associates, the group that owns Natchez Community.