National accrediting group confirms receiving complaint of patient safety concern at Summa

2017-01-04 | Akron Beacon Journal

Jan. 04--A national health accreditation organization confirmed on Tuesday that it had received a complaint "of a patient safety concern at Summa Health System."

The complaint comes amid a firestorm in the local medical community after the health system replaced Summa Emergency Associates (SEA) ­-- an independent physician corporation that's separate from Summa -- to staff its five emergency rooms with a group of doctors paid by Canton-based US Acute Care Solutions (USACS) at midnight Saturday.

On Tuesday, Katie Looze Bronk, a spokeswoman for the Joint Commission, said its Office of Quality and Patient Safety was "currently reviewing the concern, but we can neither confirm nor deny the details."

Summa spokesman Mike Bernstein said "while any person can file an anonymous complaint with the Joint Commission, we take patient safety concerns very seriously. To that end, we will respond in the appropriate time period as determined by the Joint Commission to allow them to determine if anything did actually occur."

On Tuesday, medical professionals at Summa continued to contact the Beacon Journal to express concerns about the care and work flow in the emergency rooms.

Marty Richmond, a spokesman for USACS, said "our experience with Summa employees, nurses and administrators has been overwhelmingly positive. Summa employees have worked tirelessly to bring our physicians up to speed on their systems and we are very appreciative of their professionalism."

The replaced SEA emergency room doctors, physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners would prefer to return to their jobs with their existing group, but if that can't happen, their leader said they have other job opportunities.

Help wanted

That's because most Northeast Ohio emergency departments are understaffed and need more help, said Dr. Jeff Wright, who leads the Summa Emergency Associates, the group of doctors who had staffed Summa emergency rooms for 40 years.

The approximately 80 medical professionals -- 60 board-certified emergency room doctors and 20 nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants -- still staff the emergency rooms at Western Reserve Hospital in Cuyahoga Falls and Wooster Community Hospital.

On Tuesday, some of those staffers were working at the two remaining emergency rooms since they are scheduled two months in advance, others were off and others were picking up work at other ERs.

Wright said that SEA is keeping its schedule open for January, in case Summa changes its mind and asks the doctors' group back.

"We can only do that for so long, obviously," Wright said.

SEA doctors would only return under SEA management, not with USACS, Wright said.

Other inquiries

"Right now, we're considering the different opportunities we have locally," he said. "We have already had four different emergency departments ask if we would come. They're understaffed.

"We'd prefer to be serving the Akron community because we have been serving the community for so long. Most doctors have houses within 10 to 30 minutes of Akron." Wright said he has had no contact with Summa leadership since last week.

The changeover surfaced publicly late last week and affected staffing at Akron City Hospital and Summa facilities in Barberton, Green, Medina and Wadsworth.

USACS works with hospitals across the country to provide similar groups of physician services. The company's chief executive officer, Dr. Dominic Bagnoli, is the husband of Dr. Vivian von Gruenigen, Summa's chief medical officer, one of the most powerful administrative positions at the health system.

Summa officials said on Friday that von Gruenigen was not involved in the selection process and that she would not affect the relationship between Summa and USACS.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said he had been in contact with officials at Summa, the city's largest employer, and plans to keep the lines of communication open.

"When this situation first arose, I and our EMS command were understandably concerned about whether this would affect patient care for our residents. Through this transition, I've appreciated Summa's open communication with our EMS, and am pleased to report we did not encounter any issues or disruption in EMS service over the weekend.

"My top priority at all times is maintaining the health and safety of our residents," the mayor said.

In response to the complaint received by the Joint Commission, Bronk said if a situation "raises concerns about a continuing threat to patient safety or if it suggests a failure to comply with Joint Commission standards, then the Joint Commission may conduct an unannounced or unscheduled on-site evaluation of the organization."

Health organizations must address any problems that are found to maintain their national accreditation, she said.

On Tuesday, Bernstein declined to name the new director for the emergency medicine residency program, saying the information needed to be shared with Summa staff first.

Bernstein said Dr. David Custodio, the Akron City Hospital current chief medical officer and an emergency medicine physician, had been named as interim chair for the Department of Emergency Medicine. (Von Gruenigen is chief medical officer for the entire health system.)

Bernstein also said that Dr. Thomas Malone, Summa president and CEO, hadn't authored responses to a blog post at about the Summa situation and was not familiar with the blog.

Richmond, spokesman for USACS, confirmed that its CEO, Bagnoli, had authored three comments on the blog, but not ones with inflammatory remarks.

Getting credentials

Richmond said there are 75 USACS physicians working at Summa or in the process of getting credentialed. Most are from Northeast Ohio, Columbus and Cincinnati, with others from other parts of the country in the process of getting credentialed.

Wright, the SEA head, said he received personal assurances from several other Northeast Ohio emergency physician groups that out of professional courtesy, they would not staff Summa's ERs, despite being offered hefty per-hour rates.

At cross-town rival, Cleveland Clinic Akron General, the emergency room waits at the facilities in Akron, Bath, Green, Lodi and Stow "are busy, but we are not seeing higher-than-normal traffic for this time of year," spokesman Joe Milicia said.

Akron General's ER docs are part of a "longtime partnership and strong relationship" with General Emergency Room Specialists, Milicia said.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or and see all her stories at