BILLINGS — After hospital officials at St. Vincent Healthcare confirmed the closure of the Billings Pain Center will come in January, it left one Billings physician worried about the future of both patients and providers in the region.
Dr. Cole Whitmoyer owns Flex Family Health Direct, a subscription-based primary care clinic. Once the pain center is closed, primary care providers will be the ones responsible for continuing pain management treatment for their patients. This is something that, according to Whitmoyer, isn't what primary care providers should be doing.
“Pain management is a specialty that is just like any other specialty. We have cardiologists for people that have heart problems. We have rheumatologists for people that have autoimmune disorders and rheumatological disorders. We have pain management for people who have severe pain outside of what we can handle in primary care,” he said. "It is scary and we do have reservations about doing it."
Intermountain Health Medical Group Leadership told MTN News Wednesday that closing the pain center was a tough call.
"Ending operations at the Billings Pain Center was not a decision taken lightly, and we understand that changes in care can be unsettling. Our primary care teams will be bolstered by our expansive Intermountain Health network of seasoned medical professionals and resources. This collaboration will help to ensure that our patients continue to receive the highest quality of care," the statement said.
The hospital did not provide a total number of patients the pain clinic closure will impact, but Billings Clinic told MTN News that it has approximately 1,500 patients who currently access the pain center through St. Vincent Healthcare.
Whitmoyer does not provide chronic pain management at his clinic and he guessed he has directed "less than 20" of the 1,300 patients who go to Flex to the pain center.
“There’s a lot of people that need help and they need this management of their pain and they need to do this and not having somewhere to go, it’s hard and what do we do? I don’t really know right now,” Whitmoyer said. "A provider at St. V’s or Billings Clinic has 2,000, 2,500 patients. You know if you have, you’re managing a bunch of people with pain in there and you’re having to see people so quickly.”
One of Whitmoyer's fears with the closure is not enough time for a provider to properly work with a patient to manage their pain. Another fear is the type of opioid medication that will now fall on the providers to prescribe.
“Three to 400 physicians commit suicide every year. So, when you’re thinking about prescribing a pain medicine, and what might happen with that medicine, and if you’re responsible for what happens with that. It is scary. And you’re just putting something on the shoulders of people that already have huge weights on them. So, it's such a hard situation.”