Malpractice Insurance Crisis Threatens Memorial Hospital

Because of the impending malpractice insurance crisis, Memorial Hospital administrators met for more than two hours on Monday. They talked at length about what the hospital can do to save its specialty services, and protect its patients.

Both are at risk because insurance companies don't want to insure Mississippi doctors. And that's a problem for nephrologists such as Dr. Douglas Lanier.

"It's absolutely a crisis at this point," Dr. Lanier said. "There is no question it's a crisis."

Dr. Lanier is worried that the latest healthcare crisis could kill some of his Gulfport dialysis patients. His malpractice insurance expires on July 10, 2002. "And at this point we have been given no guarantee by anyone that we'll have malpractice insurance by July 10th," the doctor said.

Without that insurance, Dr. Lanier and his partners can't use Memorial Hospital to treat more than 300 patients with potentially deadly kidney problems. You see, hospital bylaws prohibit uninsured doctors from using the facility.

So Dr. Lanier's staff has contacted other Mississippi hospitals, to see if they can take care of the more serious dialysis patients.

The doctor said that's not the best situation. Neither is his insurance predicament. "We would go without the malpractice insurance if we had privileges at the hospitals. And that's a risk. But our patients always come first," he said.

As for Memorial Hospital, its administrators held a special lunchtime meeting. Afterward, Diane Gallagher spoke for the hospital group. "Our concern at the hospital is patients access to healthcare," she said.

The administrators talked about ways the hospital can end the malpractice nightmare before cardiologists and other specialists lose their malpractice coverage later this summer. "I think that we all agree it's a very potentially serious situation. And we're very hopeful that if we all work together that a resolution will come and those that need care the most will be able to get it," said Gallagher.

Rising malpractice costs are a problem all over the state. Because so many malpractice lawsuits are filed in Mississippi, many insurance providers have made it difficult for doctors to keep their coverage.