Local doctors are preparing a revolt against Wheaton-Franciscan Health Care that could dramatically reshape Racine's medical services.
At least 50 doctors are prepared to walk out on Wheaton-Franciscan over numerous concerns of mismanagement and poor billing practices, according to anonymous sources. Tension between doctors and the company have been building since the Milwaukee-based Wheaton-Franciscan (background info) completed its takeover of All Saints Healthcare three years ago and eliminated local control of Racine's hospitals, clinics and doctors.
Insiders close to the showdown say at least half of Wheaton-Franciscan's doctors in Racine will demand the non-profit corporation release them from their contracts and allow them to create their own medical group. Doctors want their own group so they can improve billing services, hire their own nurses and run their medical practices how they see fit.
The tipping point for many doctors was Wheaton-Franciscan's decision to replace its anesthesiology department with a Florida-based company that relies on highly trained nurses instead of doctors to provide anesthesiology to most patients. The decision came after negotiations broke down between Wheaton-Franciscan and Racine's anesthesiologists; , some had practiced locally for over 20 years.
But doctors were also upset by a series of business decisions that forced Wheaton-Franciscan to siphon money away from Racine to prop up its other buildings, a doctor said. The company is in the process of converting Racine into a "charity hospital" that primarily see patients without insurance. Other patients will be diverted to Wheaton-Franciscan's facilities in other cities.
"You cannot have a business survive like this," a doctor said.
More than 100 local doctors met Wednesday night to voice their concerns with Wheaton-Franciscan President and CEO John Oliverio. The 2-1/2 hour meeting did little to assuage the doctors, according to sources. At one point, someone asked the room how many wanted to leave Wheaton-Franciscan. More than 100 doctors raised their hands, according to a source.
"It was the first time I'd seen that many doctors in a room together in years," one source said.
The group of 50 doctors - which is roughly half of Wheaton-Franciscan's doctors in Racine - has been meeting privately with Wheaton-Franciscan's competitors to explore options. All local doctors employed by Wheaton-Franciscan have a restrictive covenant in their contracts that prevents them from practicing medicine in Racine County for 18 months after they leave.
If Wheaton-Franciscan refuses to let the group go on its own, the doctors are prepared to set up shop in a neighboring community, wait out the 18 months and return to establish the new physician-led medical group in Racine.
One doctor said there is little hope of repairing the relationship between Wheaton-Franciscan and a majority of its doctors. Thirty-eight doctors have left - many out of frustration - since Wheaton-Franciscan completed its merger with All Saints, a source said.
"They're incapable of fixing things," a source said of Wheaton-Franciscan. "They haven't done one thing in the last three years to make our jobs easier. They implement systems that add hours onto our long days, and they (the systems) don't even promote good health care."
The hope is Wheaton-Franciscan allows the doctors to split away, but still maintain a relationship with Racine's hospital. This will allow local doctors to keep their patients and improve service, a doctor said.
Doctors feel they can pull off the split now because a majority of Wheaton-Franciscan's doctors have agreed to leave.
"We wouldn't do this if we didn't think we had a solid group," a source said.
In order for the split to work, a doctor said, local patients and the community will need to support the doctors' efforts to improve Racine's health care.
One doctor wrote RacinePost with this account about their time in Racine, and the need for change:
I came during the last upheaval which saw many physicians leave. At that time morale was low-very low. Then Ken Buser and Thad Johnson took over and things literally turned around overnight. Until four years ago things were going great and physicians were happy as well as most of the staff.Patients were getting good care. Then came the formal merger with Wheaton. Most of the physicians new nothing about this, and, we certainly did not clamour for it as stated in the Journal Times. This was a move solely orchestrated by the Wheaton leadership (Mr. Olivario). We were only one of a few, maybe the only one, of their hospitals operating in the black. We paid for our women's center with cash. After the merger all of our money - the community's money - was basically siphoned off to Wheaton for many of their other failing hospitals. Our medical group has been literally dismembered piece by piece. Many good physicians have left,and, many of those physicians had been in town for a whole career. These physicians, who live in our community, were thrown away like yesterdays trash by administrators - many of whom do not even live in our community.
The fact that so many physicians are unhappy (not just physicians but nurses, clerks, operating room technicians - EVERYONE - including patients) means that the Wheaton organization has broken a fiduciary obligation to the Racine community it is supposed to serve. In the next few weeks there will be a large contingent of physicians who want to break aweay from Wheaton and still continue to care for their patients independently in the community. We will need the support of the community to do this because of restrictive covenants we were were forced to sign. You have some excellent physicians in this community who have been handcuffed. They want to provide excellent care. Please help us to be able to do this by calling the Wheaton organization and community representatives and tell them you suppport us. This is our community, you are our patients and we do not want to leave!