Hospital drops limit on staff obstetricians | AspenTimes.com

Hospital drops limit on staff obstetricians

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Valley Hospital will add a new obstetrician to its staff, the hospital’s board of directors decided on Monday night.

Until now, the hospital has limited its staff obstetricians to three.

With the unanimous vote, the board opened up the practice primarily based on the case of three nurse/midwives at the Aspen Center for Women’s Health, whose supervising physician left to start his own practice in August. Without a supervising doctor, the women cannot deliver babies or prescribe medicine.

The hospital’s limit on obstetricians meant that the nurse/midwives were not able to bring a new doctor to the hospital to supervise their work. “Closing practices,” as the limitation on physicians in some specialties is known, is said by hospital officials to be a way to ensure quality of care in a small community.

A standing-room-only crowd came to the hospital’s conference room to support the three midwives. The Aspen Center for Women’s Health reports currently serving 2,500 women in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The Center’s co-owner, Teresa Hall, said the three midwives deliver 50 percent of the babies born at Aspen Valley Hospital.

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“They’ve been here for 30 years, and they should be a priority,” said Morgan Walsh, a 14-year patient of the Center.

Other women stood to tell the board the strong connection they feel with the Center’s nurse/midwives.

“I hope you’ll continue to support choice in the valley by supporting these women,” said Lara Whitley. “Do not underestimate the loyalty of a woman to her midwife.”

Although the hospital recently announced the three women were entering into mediation talks with their former physician, Dr. Kenton Bruice, just a few days ago the nurse/midwives decided that working out a long-term business relationship with Bruice would not be a viable option.

Since the mediation didn’t continue, Monday night’s board meeting put the board in an “awkward situation,” said board member John Sarpa. A temporary 30-day agreement which allowed Bruice and fellow OB/GYNs Dr. Mallory Harling and Dr. Melinda Nagle to supervise the midwives expired on Monday night.

“I think we can’t ignore 2,500 patients ? that’s really important,” said board member Dr. Morris Cohen. “And we can’t ignore public health.”

Board member John Sarpa said closing a practice is a decision based on “community need and community input.” His fellow board members agreed, unanimously voting to open the hospital to a new physician, to enthusiastic applause in the conference room.

“I think we’d just like to make our own choice to have someone in our office who supports our patients,” said the Center’s co-owner, Linda Vieira, after the decision. If the nurse/midwives find the right physician, they say they are interested in turning the practice over and becoming employees for a doctor, rather than employing the doctor themselves.

Although they had planned to turn the business over to Dr. Bruice, they could not come to a mutual employment contract. Instead, Bruice formed his own practice in early August.

What the midwives do next to ensure that they will be supervised by a physician while looking for one to join their own practice is yet to be determined. Board members noted they can hire a temporary doctor, but such “locum tenens” service is often extremely costly because it possesses a large liability, to the tune of $1,000 a day.

Board members John Jellinek and Elaine Sarpa both noted the personal attacks that have taken place over the past month ? which led board member John Sarpa to warn the crowd that any challenges of credibility or integrity at the meeting would not be tolerated.

The board withheld videotapes of last month’s particularly contentious discussion on the topic and did not air them on GrassRoots TV Channel 12 until they were certain comments made at the meeting were not slanderous and would not provoke lawsuits. The meetings aired last week on the local TV station.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]