Hospitals Brace For Surgeons' Walkout

Dr. Charles Lobrano said his anesthesiology group "won't jeopardize medical care." So if general surgeons walk out next week, his anesthesiologists must stay out of most operating rooms.

Despite the tort reform changes approved by Mississippi's legislature, the surgeons' malpractice insurance keeps going up. So a group of surgeons decided to launch a protest. They'll take a 30 day leave of absence to emphasize that unless somebody controls insurance rates, Mississippi surgeons such as Dr. Alton Dauterive may disappear.

A new patient hasn't walked into Dr. Dauterive's office for three weeks. "I would be practicing medicine if I had insurance," the peripheral vascular surgeon said. "I have no insurance at this time."

So the surgeon is on the phone a lot, searching for an insurance carrier he can afford, and searching for support from his colleagues. 'Mississippi is facing a real healthcare crisis at present," the doctor told his caller.

The crisis is the same one doctors feared last year -- skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs.

Dr. Dauterive is tired of his staff finding busy work to do, because he wouldn't renew his insurance. To protest the $125,000 a year premium, Dr. Dauterive organized a 30 day leave of absence. Starting Monday, about a dozen coast surgeons at Memorial Hospital, Garden Park, Gulf Coast, and Hancock Medical Centers will stop performing surgeries.

"I'm just trying to see if we can get anything done to allow myself and the other surgeons and physicians involved in this crisis to be able to get back to work," Dr. Dautrive said.

By themselves, the surgeons' leave of absence won't shut down operating rooms. But a decision by eight anesthesiologists to support the surgeons will shut them down.

Dr. Charles Lobrano is one of the anesthesiologists. He calls the general surgeons the backbone of most operating rooms. If they can't afford to be in surgery, Dr. Lobrano said his anesthesiologists shouldn't be in there either.

So unless you're having a baby, or an emergency procedure, administrators tell us surgeries will have to be canceled until the surgeons and the anesthesiologists come back to work.

A statement from Gulf Coast Medical Center said the hospital sympathized with the surgeons' malpractice worries. Administrators hoped the walkout stimulated the legislature to act quickly to resolve this matter.

That's what the surgeons are after -- more help from the legislature to keep insurance costs down.

"The issue isn't only about doctors," Dr. Dauterive said. "It's about making sure healthcare is available in our community in the foreseeable future."

That's also the concern of the hospitals caught in the middle of this protest. A statement from Memorial Hospital said, "Hospital administration is working diligently to develop contingency plans for surgery patients."