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March 24, 2014
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Surgeon seeks the community’s help

Following the recent cancellation of his contract, Aspen Valley Hospital’s head surgeon is asking the community to lobby the health care facility’s board to retain him.

Dr. Bill Rodman, who has managed the hospital’s surgical services through an exclusive-provider contract since 1993, widely distributed an email last week that calls on friends and others to write new hospital CEO Dan Bonk and board chairman Dr. Barry Mink to allow him to remain as the hospital’s second surgeon after his term concludes at the end of June.

The email also contains a narrative describing various events at the hospital, covering the start of his lengthy career and ending with the current situation in which the hospital board has decided to replace him by contracting with a Denver-based surgical firm. The firm, Surgical Services of Colorado, will supply Aspen Valley Hospital with two surgeons beginning July 1. Negotiations between Rodman and the firm in late 2013 for the purpose of retaining Rodman as one of the surgeons did not pan out.

“Up until now, I have remained silent, hoping to allow the process to proceed and to not tarnish in any way the hospital that I have nurtured over these years,” his email, dated March 20, says. “It, unfortunately, is time for a PR campaign!”

Rodman asks that people petition the hospital to request that the Denver firm only provide one surgeon so that he can remain in the hospital’s surgery rotation.

“I would remain as the other surgeon to serve you, my community, as I have for 21 years,” he writes.

Phone messages left for Bonk and Mink were not returned on Sunday afternoon.

Rodman’s lengthy narrative states that if Surgical Services fulfills its obligation to provide one full-time and one part-time surgeon for the hospital, Rodman still plans to provide surgical services locally. But it will be difficult, he writes, because the new surgeons will receive financial support from the hospital.

“While I plan to continue to practice here, it will be extremely challenging,” Rodman says. “There will be three surgeons (myself and two surgeons from SSOC) to meet the needs of the upper Roaring Fork Valley, where at most 1.5 surgeons are needed to meet surgical demands. I will be competing with surgeons from Denver who will be subsidized by AVH in order to guarantee that their practice survives over mine. I believe for the first time in history, AVH is subsidizing one physician practice over another.”

Rodman’s plea for community support in his quest to remain at Aspen Valley Hospital is the latest chapter in a saga involving the hospital’s surgical services over the past few years.

According to Rodman, in 2001 the hospital required that he bring in a second surgeon “to prevent my own burnout.” A female surgeon was recruited and hired, but after a couple of years her contract was terminated. In 2004, he brought in Dr. John Schultz.

Their relationship began to deteriorate after a few years, Schultz told The Aspen Times after Rodman terminated his contract last summer and the board upheld the decision. Coinciding with their personal and professional differences was the fact that former hospital CEO David Ressler, in January 2010, began lobbying for a change with Rodman’s relationship with the hospital, preferring that Rodman become a direct hospital employee in lieu of the exclusive-provider arrangement.

Schultz did not go away quietly and aired some of his differences with Rodman publicly. Also, at a packed public meeting at the hospital in early June, he was critical of the board’s decision to agree to Rodman’s termination of his contract. The board did not reverse its decision.

Following that brouhaha, Rodman states in the narrative, he found other candidates for the second surgeon position and also sought to obtain information from hospital officials about his new employment contract.

“I was not provided with any information, and we lost the opportunity” to hire another surgeon, he writes.

To fill the gap when Rodman had time off, the hospital began to make use of temporary surgeons from other areas of the country. They are known as “locums.”

Rodman says he kept attempting to hire a second surgeon, but in August he was told that since he had failed to recruit a second surgeon, “I had to sign a revision to my existing contract to allow the hospital to recruit a second surgeon directly. This abrogated the exclusive-provider clause in my contract.”

Then in September, hospital officials asked the board to allow them to look at surgical groups as an option. Rodman objected, expressing a concern that it could set up a model for rotating surgeons that had led to problems with the hospital’s surgery practice in the early 1990s.

Rodman says he was told by a hospital official in October of plans to pursue a contract with Surgical Services.

“I was completely excluded from discussing with the administration what special skill set we should be looking for in a new surgeon, and what I felt, after two decades of practice, the surgical needs of both hospital and our remote mountain community are,” he says in the narrative.

Rodman states that over the next couple of months, he spoke with other health care facilities, including the Mayo Clinic, about bringing surgeons to Aspen, but the hospital did not pursue the connections he lined up.

In December, Rodman began negotiating with Surgical Services, but found the details of his contract objectionable, he says. Following some changes, he received another contract in January, but there was still a clause in it he didn’t like. His lawyers advised him not to sign it.

He writes that soon after, Surgical Services walked away from the negotiating table.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 24, 2014 12:00AM Published Mar 26, 2014 03:34PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.