At least 11 of All Saints' 14 anesthesiologists are set to leave after contract negotiations broke down. They'll be replaced by certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), who are specifically trained to put people under in surgeries.
But surgeons who work with the anesthesiologists said they're concerned about switching to a system that replaces board-certified doctors with nurses.
"There's a risk of hearts attacks, blood clots ... of coding right on the table," one insider said. "You want a board-certified doc there."
Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints' response: Florida company will expand anesthesiology services in Racine
While the anesthesiologists and All Saints are not talking about the change, people close to the situation have confirmed the hospital is planning the switch. Our calls to anesthesiologists were not returned and All Saints twice promised us a comment, including a formal written response, but then never responded.
The story is particularly difficult to report because Wheaton-Franciscan has a policy that prohibits employees from talking to the media without permission. Anyone who talks to a reporter can be fired immediately, according to insiders.
While some are concerned about the switch to certified nurse anesthesiologists, it's a move that's becoming increasingly common.
Statewide, the majority of hospitals use CRNAs, according to Lawrence Beck, president of the Wisconsin Association of Nurse Anesthetists.
"You probably won't notice a change in the type of care," Beck said about the transition from anesthesiologists to CRNAs. "It's very safe."
Improvements in technology to put people under during surgeries, combined with significant amounts of training for CRNAs, has allowed hospitals to switch to a "team approach" with nurses, surgeons and anesthesiologists working together.
Cost is the big advantage of switching from anesthesiologists to CRNAs, Beck said.
"CRNAs are not paid as much," he said.
But local insiders said they're concerned Wheaton-Franciscan's decision to cut ties with its anesthesiology group is part of a growing trend. They noted several top-notch doctors, such OB/GYN Lenora Brockman and Pediatrician Jennifer Thomas, have left recently, that the Urology department is down to one doctor, that All Saints' dermatology department is gone and that the Medical College of Wisconsin ended its Family Medicine Residency in Racine last year.
Of course, insiders said, there are many good doctors and surgeons still in Racine. But there's a growing sense of frustration because Wheaton-Franciscan has taken away local control and lumped Racine in with Milwaukee, Franklin and other hospitals in the region.
"Why are all the good doctors leaving Racine?" one insider asked. "No decisions are being made here. It's time to bring back Racine health care to Racine."
Update: A Florida company brought in to manage All Saints' anesthesiology department will upgrade services, according to the hospital's chief of staff.
Dr. Nicholas Omdahl, vice president of medical affairs at All Saints, said Anesthetix Management LLC, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., will employ eight anesthesiologists and 14 certified registered nurse anesthetists. That's an increase over the previous provider, SEAC, which employed 12 anesthesiologists, Omdahl said.
Two doctors from SEAC will remain with All Saints and Anesthetix will recruit six more anesthesiologists to live and work locally, Omdahl said.
No scheduled surgeries will be interrupted by the transition, Omdahl said. Anesthetix is scheduled to start on Jan. 11.
While CRNAs earn less than anesthesiologists, the new system is not just a matter of cost savings, Omdahl said. Actually, the new group will cost more than the old, he said.
But the additional money will lead to a more efficient operation that saves surgeons' time and improves patient care.
"They (Anesthetix) are nationally known for efficiency," Omdahl said.
He added All Saints and its former anesthesiologists each agreed it was time to go in different directions. Omdahl said it wasn't contract related because SEAC's contract wasn't up for another 18 months.
Omdahl said SEAC had lost three of its members and had a difficult time recruiting replacements, which put a stress on their service.
"They couldn't meet the demands and they wanted to move on," Omdahl said.
He added All Saints did not ask the the anesthesiologists to leave.
"They made the decision to go elsewhere," Omdahl said.