Phoebe docs express support for CEO - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe docs express support for CEO

February 10, 2005

Albany - Phoebe Putney staff doctors overwhelmingly support hospital CEO Joel Wernick. Dr. John Bagnato, who's publicly accused the hospital administration of corruption, was expected to call for Wernick's resignation during a staff meeting Monday night. But, that didn't happen.

"There were a lot of people who got up and made pleas for unity," said Dr. Michael Laslie. Anesthesiologist Dr. Michael Laslie says some doctors demanded answers about Phoebe's off shore company Grove Point Indemnity, which has been criticized for being a slush fund for hospital executives.

Chief Financial officer Kerry Loudermilk explained that hundreds of hospitals have similar accounts. The accounts allow the hospital to access cheaper liability insurance. "This whole Grove Point is saving Phoebe in excess of 1-million dollars a year," said Loudermilk. Loudermilk says those savings keep Phoebe from charging more for medical care.

Loudermilk's explanation of the accounts satisfied most doctors. "The questions about the off-shore accounts were cleared up so well by Mr. Loudermilk that this became a non-issue," said Dr. Laslie.

The Phoebe Factoids were another concern. The faxes, touting the hospital's top secret information, were disseminated by Dr. Bagnato and his office manager Charles Rehberg.

"I don't know what real reasons for all this was, but I do know that the factoids were below the belt, uncalled for, and unnecessary," said Dr. Laslie.

Dr. Laslie says as the administration explained themselves, the mood of the crowd begin to change. "It became pretty obvious to me that if Dr. Bagnato introduced this motion, it would certainly be voted down."

However, doctors didn't get the chance because Dr. Bagnato decided not to call for Wernick's resignation. Dr. Bagnato said he now feels optimistic that business leaders and medical staff are trying to build a better relationship and the call for Wernick's resignation would be counter-productive.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi attorney who's suing Phoebe Putney and hundreds of hospitals for overcharging uninsured patients is taking the fight to state courts. Attorney Richard Scruggs announced he's filing lawsuits in 23 states against the not-for-profit hospitals.

Many federal judges have already dismissed the cases, stating only the IRS can bring these claims not the victims. But, Scruggs isn't giving up.

He says state laws prohibit overcharging for medical care, and he plans to seek justice through the state courts. Scruggs has already filed a suit against Phoebe Putney in state court.

Phoebe continues to deny ever overcharging uninsured patients or using threatening tactics to collect medical bills.

updated at 10:40AM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com

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