Law Now Lets Rural Texas Hospitals Hire Physicians


SAUSALITO, CA (NCP-ASSN.ORG)-- Ochiltree General Hospital in Perryton has a happy boss. CEO Jeff Barnhart has a full medical staff, which is a big burden off his shoulders because hiring a new physician can take a year or longer.

And last week Barnhart received more encouraging news. Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that allows rural hospitals like Ochiltree County's to hire their own physicians.

"We're thrilled that this finally happened," Barnhart said of Perry signing Senate Bill 894 authored by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, and passed with the help of Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

"In the future, when we need a doctor, this will make it easier for us to recruit and hire the doctor or doctors we need," Barnhart said.

The law exempts hospitals in counties with no more than 50,000 residents from a decades-old Texas law that prohibits medical facilities from having physicians on the payroll. Texas is one of the few states with such a prohibition, supported by the Texas Medical Association and other physician organizations on grounds that it protects doctor-patient relationships.

Duncan, whose bill included Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, as co-author, said after he and Coleman tried for several sessions to pass similar proposals only to see them killed, he is glad it finally became law.

"This legislation will help rural hospitals compete for practitioners and give them better opportunities to recruit and retain qualified physicians," Duncan said. "I am pleased that rural residents, including residents in West Texas, will finally have access to the critical health care they need."

Coleman, considered one of the leading health care experts in the Legislature, said the legislation he and Duncan worked on is a milestone.

"This is a major shift in state policy," Coleman said. "Doctors will have the choice between hanging up their own shingle or working directly for a hospital."

Dr. Bruce Malone of Austin, who on Saturday became president of TMA, said the 45,000-member organization supported the bill this year because it recognizes rural hospitals "have special needs."

Skylar Bizzell, one of four physicians at the Medical Center of Dimmitt, said he is grateful TMA and the entire medical community in Texas finally realized that rural hospitals have special needs.

"This removes one of the big barriers we have faced over the years," Bizzell said. "Here at our hospital the last time we had a vacancy it took us more than a year to find a doctor. Big city hospitals don't take that long."

Although the new law is going to be a big help for rural hospitals, Barnhart, Malone, Bizzell and others said no one should be under the illusion that this alone would alleviate the doctor shortage rural Texas has faced for years.

"A lot of doctors, particularly young physicians, don't want to set up shop in rural areas," said former Lubbock County Judge Don McBeath, now director of advocacy and communications at the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals.

"Rural hospitals will still have a tough time recruiting some of those doctors," McBeath said.

With the passage of Duncan's bill, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, no longer have to worry similar legislation aimed at some counties in their districts.

Seliger filed two bills to allow the hospital districts in Ochiltree and Dallam/Hartley counties to hire their own physicians while Chisum filed similar proposals for hospital districts in Ochiltree and Childress counties.

Chisum said after hearing Perry had signed the bill that except for a bond package in one of his bills, his proposals would no longer be necessary.

"This takes cares of everything, so I am happy," said Chisum, who was co-author of Coleman's House Bill 1700, the companion bill to SB 894.

Copyright 2011- National College of Physicians (NCP-ASSN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


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