Medical crisis hits home in Meridian

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
March 21, 2002
The high cost of medical liability insurance and the Mississippi Legislature's failure to reform the state's civil justice system apparently played major roles in the decision of a Meridian neurosurgeon to move his practice to Michigan.
Dr. Orhan Ilercil's move also illustrates a statewide dilemma involving a trauma care system that medical professionals have worked toward for years. Unless another neurosurgeon can be recruited quickly, the brakes may be put on efforts of three Meridian hospitals to achieve a higher level of certification in trauma care.
Ilercil, one of two practicing neurosurgeons in Meridian, is moving his practice to Michigan, according to state medical association officials. He declined an interview Wednesday and Dr. David S. Malloy, the neurosurgeon who works with Ilercil, could not be reached for comment.
Dr. W.A. Billups III, a general surgeon in Meridian, said the loss of a neurosurgeon is serious. Billups serves on the board of the East Central Mississippi Trauma Care Region and has worked for two years to establish a trauma care system with plans for Meridian to serve as the medical control center for a nine-county region.
Meridian's three hospitals were working toward being classified as Level III trauma centers within the statewide trauma system, a network of hospitals that work together to make sure patients get emergency care they need as quickly as possible. Billups said he was hoping Meridian's hospitals would receive the designation, then eventually move up to a Level II designation if another neurosurgeon could be recruited.
Billups doesn't see much chance of recruiting another one now and without neurosurgeons, people with serious head injuries are going to have to be transported to other hospitals.
Tim Thomas, director of the East Central Trauma Region, said there is a lot of frustration within the medical community because the Legislature failed to deal with important medical issues this session.
Thomas, who also serves as administrator of Newton Regional Hospital, the hospital's medical liability insurance rate has increased 300 percent over the past year. Billups said his own coverage has gone up 50 percent.
Dr. Hugh Gamble, a thoracic surgeon in Greenville, is president of the state's Trauma Advisory Committee and the Mississippi State Medical Association. The Trauma Advisory Committee has suspended planned inspections of trauma units. Gamble said the committee is trying to "buy time" because some hospitals may not meet the state trauma care standards now that doctors are leaving the state or stopping emergency practices.
Gamble said he expects doctors to continue to leave the state as part of the fallout over the Legislature's failure to pass a tort reform bill that would cap damage awards from civil lawsuits. Other concerns facing doctors include the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance and cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
Gamble said that besides Meridian, Columbus, Greenwood, Greenville and Tupelo have all lost neurosurgeons recently.
He also said a large group of doctors in Natchez is planning to set up practice in Louisiana, a state that implemented tort reform several years ago and he said 18 insurance carriers have stopped writing medical liability policies in the state over the past five years.
Gamble said doctors want people to be adequately compensated for medical "misdeliveries" but not given an automatic trip to the courthouse with no limit on what they may be awarded in every case.
When Gamble got to his office on Wednesday, he said he had six requests for medical charts from attorneys.

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