SOMETHING DIFFERENT THIS week. Let’s call it a candid conversation about our community’s hospital, with the voices of people from the inside–employees who work at UP Health System Marquette, formerly known as Marquette General Hospital.
We’ve all heard the murmurings, mumblings and grumblings within the hospital over the past few years, and they seem to have gotten louder since Duke LifePoint took over. But understandably few of the hospital’s nearly 2000 employees want to voice their criticism publicly. They worry that they might lose their jobs.
And the media, who have their own economic concerns, also seem reluctant to take on what is arguably the most powerful institution and business in the county.
So we’ll take a crack at it.
A couple of notes first. The four employees who spoke to us did so anonymously. We’ll call them Doctor A, Doctor B, Physician Assistant, and Nurse.
After we conclude with their comments, we’ll get responses from hospital CEO Ed Banos.
WHAT MANY OF us have heard anecdotally over the last couple of years, especially recently, is that doctors are leaving the hospital. Quitting. Bailing out.
“Absolutely,” says Doctor A. “It’s not normal turnover. Doctors are fed up. It hasn’t been good and now it’s getting worse.”
“There’s definitely been a spike in 2014,” Doctor B agrees. “People are always coming and going, but we’ve lost some key doctors recently, and many of them were people we spent a long time trying to recruit. A big part of it is a lack of respect. The administration makes it clear that everyone can be replaced at any time. You can hit the road if you don’t like it.”
So what’s caused the problem? Is Duke LifePoint the culprit here? Well, that may be a little simplistic and unfair.
“The transition to Duke LifePoint has been rocky,” the Physician Assistant concedes. “But nonprofits are being bought up by for-profits all over the country. This kind of transitioning is taking place everywhere, not just in Marquette County. When you make changes like this, people get apprehensive because you wonder whether the administration is looking for people to cut.”
The Nurse noticed the change almost immediately. “When Duke LifePoint took over, they told us we had to get our nursing budget under budget,” she says. “Otherwise, we were told they’d start slashing the staff. They were threatening people. I have a lot of friends whose positions were eliminated and some of them were awesome people.”
“Ed Banos recently told a meeting ‘We’re going to get rid of negative people,'” Doctor A explains. “That sure seemed like a threat. If we try to bring issues up, we’re reprimanded, we’re called naysayers. A nurse recently brought up a problem and she was called a troublemaker. But she was right!”
The Nurse has kinder words for the CEO. “I have seen Ed Banos around. He seems to be putting in an effort, but the rest of them (the administrators), we never see them. I don’t even know who they are. And the problem is, they’re making staffing decisions without knowing what it takes to work on the floor.”
“Comunication is essential,” the Physician Assistant tells us. “The senior administrators need to let us know what we’re doing and why, and they should listen to us. They don’t do that very well, especially the senior staff. We never see them.”
Possibly the biggest problem, according to the four employees, lies in the fact that the hospital is now owned by a for-profit, out-of-state corporation.
The doctors are less kind.
“The Hippocratic oath says nothing about money,” Doctor A says. “We all swear by it, but that’s not how we’re allowed to practice.”
And the Nurse has the final word. “The hospital today is not about taking care of people. It’s all about big money, big business.” She pauses. “You know, I love my work. I love taking care of people but everything has changed and it’s sad. It’s really sad.”
NO SURPRISE, CEO Ed Banos has a different take on what’s happening at his hospital.
Unusually high turnover among doctors? Not really. “We’ve had some specialists who’ve decided to leave recently,” he explains, “but overall turnover has been normal. And those who decided to leave left for good jobs.”
How about the criticism that Duke LifePoint is pushing the staff to see more and more patients?
As for the charge that the hospital is trying to weed out staff members who are maybe…too negative, Banos doesn’t deny it.
“I can’t get out and see all 2000 employees every month,” he tells us. “I do structured rounds and informal rounds every month and and we have employee forums. I try to get out as much as possible, especially in departments under stress.”
So ultimately, why is there such vehement criticism of the hospital and the way it’s now operated?
“I think it’s only a small minority who aren’t happy in their jobs,” Banos concludes.
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