Greater Southeast Community Hospital last night signed on a new company to provide emergency room physicians, enabling the institution to keep its ER open beyond midnight Saturday.
Under a three-year contract, National Emergency Services will take on most of the emergency doctors at the financially troubled hospital and at the D.C. General campus, where Greater Southeast operates a multi-specialty clinic and an emergency room. Those doctors are now working under the auspices of PhyAmerica Physician Group, whose contract expires at midnight Saturday.
The new contract gets Greater Southeast over its latest hurdle. Its parent company, Doctors Community HealthCare Corp. of Scottsdale, Ariz., successfully sought emergency financing in bankruptcy court Tuesday to keep Greater Southeast and other medical facilities in operation.
"For the city and the other hospitals, it ensures that we have coverage and therefore a seamless transition," said Karen Dale, chief executive of Greater Southeast.
Dale said city hospitals "that already perceive they're overburdened" should feel assured "that Greater Southeast is going to carry its share of the burden."
She said that under the new contract, the medical director of the emergency department would be a staff member of the hospital. Under the PhyAmerica contract, the director works for the contracting agency.
"The ER is a critical aspect of a hospital's operation, and that accountability should rest with me," Dale said.
The contract also allows Greater Southeast to calculate payments to National Emergency Services based on the number of patients seen in the emergency room rather than on a set number of physician hours.
Dale called the two new contract provisions good business practices, "particularly now that we have to show this bankruptcy court . . . that we're running a cost-effective and viable business."
The contract with National Emergency Services begins when the PhyAmerica contract ends, and a schedule for covering the two emergency rooms -- both in Southeast Washington -- in December is already being worked out, Dale said.
When Greater Southeast hired PhyAmerica several years ago to provide emergency physicians, it was following a national trend. PhyAmerica eventually built a large portfolio of clients at hospitals and other facilities in 30 states.
But PhyAmerica and Doctors Community were clients of National Century Financial Enterprises, and the Ohio lender's financial collapse created a crisis for both. Doctors Community stopped sending payments to PhyAmerica, and PhyAmerica announced that it would not renew its contract with Greater Southeast.
National Emergency Services, with 1,250 physicians, is much smaller than PhyAmerica, which had 2,400. National Emergency Services has as clients 130 providers in rural and suburban areas, as well as teaching hospitals in New York, Illinois and Florida. The firm says on its Web site that it has revenue in excess of $97 million a year and access to credit to keep it financially stable.
Earlier, Greater Southeast had been routinely diverting ambulances to other hospitals because of the limited availability of registered nurses to staff the wards.
The emergency room was reopened to the sickest patients Tuesday, Dale said, although all ambulances were diverted to other hospitals for a total of four hours that day. Dale said she was not aware of any ambulance diversions yesterday.