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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 23, 2017 1:00 am

Lutheran loses GI doctors

Unnamed specialists leave over contract, hospital says

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

A group of Fort Wayne doctors affiliated with Lutheran Health Network have ended their employment with the network over a contract dispute, according to a statement issued Friday by a network spokeswoman.

The statement does not identify the doctors except to say they specialize in gastrointestinal medicine.

The group “rejected new employment agreements and allowed their contracts to expire” Thursday night, the statement says. By doing so, the physicians are “effectively ending their employment with our organization and the care they were providing for their patients,” the statement adds.

Alice Robinson, network vice president for planning, issued the statement after The Journal Gazette asked about the gastrointestinal doctors' status.

The statement calls the doctors' decision to leave “disappointing for our patients and the staff who worked alongside these physicians.”

Network officials have arranged for coverage by other physicians and “other healthcare providers in the community” so care is not interrupted for hospitalized patients and emergency cases.

The network also is actively recruiting other doctors, the statement says. It does not offer advice to patients but says the network will work with them so they have continued access to care.

“We are focused now on recruiting new highly skilled GI physicians who hold the physician-patient relationship to a higher standard and want to work collaboratively with us to advance quality and provide the best possible patient experience,” the statement said.

Attempts to reach the doctors were unsuccessful Friday.

Gastrointestinal doctors treat diseases of the digestive system, including the esophagus, stomach, intestines and liver. Cancer, acid reflux, liver disorders such as hepatitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease are among those diseases.

Earlier this year, a group of 10 Lutheran-affiliated doctors signed a statement expressing no confidence in the management of the network by its parent company in Tennessee, Community Health Systems.

The doctors then failed in an attempt to persuade CHS to sell the network to an investment group approved by the doctors. CHS said the offer of $2.4 billion was too low.

CHS then fired former network Chief Executive Officer Brian Bauer and later sued him, accusing him of breach of contract.

According to Lutheran Health Network's statement, the gastrointenstinal specialists were offered a new contract with an increase in compensation but rejected it because it tied 5 percent of that compensation to what the statement calls “quality metrics” and patient outcomes.

The doctors “demanded” that portion of pay be lowered from 5 percent, the statement says.

Friday afternoon, a voicemail message for the gastrointestinal group housed on the Lutheran Hospital campus said its doctors were on vacation. No mention of any physicians appeared on the group's website.

rsalter@jg.net