• Citizens start petitions and demand answers
By Naomi Klouda
A petition circulating locally asks an unusual question of South Peninsula Hospital’s operating board: Why did they take a local surgeon off the on-call list for the emergency room?
Dr. Paul Sayer has lived and worked in Homer since 1979, starting his visits in 1972 at a time when few other surgeons were available to the community.
The hospital’s call schedule requires a surgeon to be on call in emergency cases. Sayer said three surgeons worked 10 days on-call. They also are called in when their own surgical patients have an emergency.
Rather than receiving the notice from hospital administration, he learned of it when a patient told him the hospital had taken him off the schedule. Therefore, he wouldn’t be able to be called in.
“I was told July 1 that I wouldn’t be on-call for the regular call schedule,” Sayer said. “And now also, when my patients come in and I don’t get called for them. They think I’m not available and that hurts my practice; plus I don’t get to share in the practice of emergency room medicine.”
Sayer is demanding answers of the hospital’s operating board, but feels so far that no answers have been forthcoming. He still has emergency room privileges, just will not be called in for any cases.
Cece Grevemberg, owner of Cece’s Kitchen, got up a petition to the board asking for them to supply answers.
“Dr. Sayer has been good to a lot of people in this town. In the 1970s, he was the only doctor to come do colonoscopies and procedures like that which we couldn’t get here,” Grevemberg said. “We wouldn’t have a South Peninsula Hospital, if it weren’t for doctors like him.”
Grevemberg said what’s particularly unfair is to not give Dr. Sayer notice or explanation after the role he has played in local medicine and historically in Homer.
The Teamster’s Union Local 959 grew involved in the matter and placed a half-page ad in the Homer Tribune thanking him. That ad was published before Dr. Sayer found out why they were doing it. It said: “In appreciation for your contribution to this community, and especially to our members at South Peninsula Hospital, we thank you Dr. Paul Sayer for all you’ve given.”
Grevemberg launched the petition drive to gain signatures, hoping the board would take the inquiry serious. The petition is available to be signed at Tech Connect, Cece’s Cafe, Gear Shed, Boogs Automotive and at Dr. Sayer’s office.
Sayer was initially told by Hospital Executive Director Bob Letson that the decision was entirely financial. “If it’s a financial thing, that doesn’t make sense at all. It is a minimal amount the hospital pays on-call emergency doctors,” he said. Patients pay for doctor’s services.
Letson said he would take the matter up with the hospital board again at their next meeting in September, Sayer said. After the July meeting, Sayer was informed the board “didn’t want him” on the on-call schedule.
Hospital Spokesperson Derotha Ferraro said she would not be able to comment to any extent publicly because personnel or staffing matters are decided on contracts and with confidentiality.
In an email, Ferraro wrote that the hospital’s board of directors approves all physician contracts. “Surgery call is contracted by the board of directors, as are many physician services, such as emergency room coverage, radiology, pathology and others. Sayer remains on active medical staff at South Peninsula Hospital and still provides surgical care here. He has served the hospital and community for many decades. We are thankful for his past and continued service. He is not retired, he is just no longer contracted for operating room on-call services.
Regarding anything more specific, matters of physician privileging and contracting are confidential,” she wrote.
The hospital holds monthly board meetings each fourth Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the hospital’s conference room. The public is welcome. South Peninsula Hospital, Inc. is non-profit organization governed by this nine-member board of directors “which ensures the hospital is fiscally sound while maintaining the quality of care and types of services desired by the residents in the Southern Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area,” according to the website.
The board is an all-volunteer board, with members appointed to three-year terms upon completing an interview process by the board’s membership committee. Minutes of each meeting are made public. The July meeting held an executive session on an emergency room physician and did not name Dr. Sayer. Executive sessions allow the board to review or make considerations on personnel outside the public eye.
Sayer works six months in Homer and six months at a family gold mine between McCarthy and Iditarod. He said he isn’t interested in retiring or making changes.
“I like my life the way it is,” he said.
The gold mine has proven productive enough to pay his son’s and some of his grandchildren’s college educations.
“It’s good for the family; a family activity,” he said. “I don’t do it for the money, I do it for me.”
Sayer was at his gold mine when the petition was taken up and when the Teamster ad was published. He appreciated the support, but grew concerned people reading it would think he had retired.
“I wasn’t part of deciding on the petition,” he explained. “I said OK, it’s all right to do that, because I can’t understand why they won’t let me on the call schedule.”
The petition has garnered quite a few signatures, with 73 on Cece’s list alone. Another 80 signatures are on a petition at the doctor’s office, with petitions at other locations. The aim is to send the petition to the hospital board prior to their next meeting on Sept. 25.
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