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Billings Clinic moving on from longtime anesthesiology contract

Billings Clinic
Posted at 5:41 PM, Feb 07, 2024

On Friday, Billings Clinic's longtime contract with Billings Anesthesiology will expire as the hospital moves towards forming its own, fully staffed anesthesiology department.

The hospital's contract with Billings Anesthesiology has gone on for several decades, according to hospital spokesperson Zach Benoit, and the change has generated concern among hospital employees.

MTN spoke with two nurses at the hospital, who expressed concerns that the loss of these contracted workers could create gaps in services in a hospital that is already struggling to find workers. Both were granted anonymity out of concerns of backlash from their employer.

"Anesthesia affects the whole hospital," one nurse said. "It has become a little bit chaotic for sure."

The first nurse said it's been apparent that changes are coming and that it is reflected in patient care.

"I think everyone's noticed the difference, and it's becoming very concerning," she said.

The other nurse agreed and said that it has stretched the hospital's resources to the maximum. She said the hospital is already battling an anesthesiologist shortage.

"It's terrifying," the nurse said. "If we're a Level 1 hospital, you have to have a trauma team, so that takes away that anesthesiologist. It's just hard to find enough to go all around."

Last summer, Billings Clinic obtained the state's first Level 1 trauma designation from the American College of Surgeons, meaning the hospital can accept more emergency patients from across the region. The $30 million effort, which included upgrades to equipment hospital-wide, was designed to increase care and boost revenue at a time when the cost of providing service for providing has skyrocketed.

The first nurse said she's even heard rumors that the hospital is asking surgeons to limit the procedures they schedule.

“I know individual surgeons are being talked to and being told they need to cut down on their cases because we won’t have enough anesthesia,” the nurse said.

But the hospital said none of that is the case and that the contract changes have been in the works for some time. President of Medical Staff Dusty Richardson said forming their own department will fill a void in care.

"Anesthesia was the only major service line that was not an employee of the clinic," Richardson said Wednesday afternoon. "So, bringing them on as members of the clinic really allows us to plan with them, offer better patient care and better patient safety."

Richardson also said the move will provide the hospital with much more flexibility, even adding to its Level 1 trauma status.

"In terms of level one, having anesthesiologists as part of the team allows us to have the flexibility to provide the care we need in an environment that sometimes is high stress," Richardson said.

A fully staffed department would require 30 to 40 anesthesiologists, and one of the nurses believes it will be a major challenge for the hospital to find employees ready to come to Billings.

"They went out recruiting and recruited no one," she said. "They don’t seem to understand that anesthesiologists only make up about 3 percent of the doctors in the United States. So, do I think they’re going to magically find 40 anesthesiologists by Friday? No, I don’t."

Richardson said he believes they will be able to find those wanting to join the team at Billings Clinic.

"Just like any major change in healthcare, it's going to take some time," Richardson said. "There's always growing pains, so do I think we'll be able to build? Absolutely."

Until the department is fully staffed, Richardson said they will rely on traveling anesthesiologists or other contracted workers, and he didn't rule out that those same longtime contracted employees could return. He knows it's a big change, but one that he believes will be beneficial to their future.

"It allows us to offer the type of quality that we expect," Richardson said. "It's an exciting timeline."