Hospitals Make It Through Day One Of Surgeons' Walkout

Gulf Coast Medical Center is the only hospital in Harrison County that still has a general surgeon on duty. He's available because he still has malpractice insurance.

That's why a dozen other general surgeons took the 30 day leaves. They wanted to protest skyrocketing malpractice insurance.

While they protested, emergency room nurses expanded their roles. One nurse worked the radio. "Nothing further. No orders," the nurse told an ambulance en route to her hospital. "Garden Park clear. Continue transport." Minutes later, the ambulance pulled into Garden Park's emergency entrance. And EMTs rolled their patient into the emergency room.

Dr. Bill Kergosien was the physician on duty. At midnight, his hospital lost its general surgeons. So, Kergosien and his staff had to stabilize patients, and then transport the people who needed surgery to other facilities. "We're going to still manage whatever emergencies we have the best way we can and deal with the change," said Dr. Kergosien.

With 12 general surgeons on leave from Garden Park, Memorial, Gulf Coast and Hancock Medical Centers, most surgical cases must be transported by ambulance to other area hospitals. Emergency room doctors say they actually handle very few surgical cases. So during the leave of absence, business at the affected hospitals should be a close to normal as possible.

Dr. Tom Graves runs the Memorial Hospital ER. "What we want to do is serve the public. That's what we do," he said.

Dr. Graves was just hired by Memorial Hospital to oversee its ER. So he's on the hospital's insurance plan. Without the hospital position, Dr. Graves would have faced a $300,000 malpractice insurance premium. That sort of skyrocketing insurance cost is what the general surgeons are protesting. Dr. Graves supports the surgeons. He said patient care won't be hurt by their walkout. "It's no different today than it was Saturday or last week," the emergency room doctor said. "You come in here to get treated. You ought to expect the best treatment possible, because you're going to get it."

At Memorial Hospital, heart cases and obstetrics are the two types of procedures that will still be performed during this walkout. Garden Park doctors will also keep their obstetrics wing open. At Gulf Coast, surgeries won't be cancelled, because one general surgeon is still on duty. But if he gets backed up, administrators said they'll send patients elsewhere.