Summa Health System has lost its appeal with a national accreditation council that abruptly stripped the institution of its ability to train emergency room residents at Akron City Hospital.
Summa simultaneously lost its bid for the group to lift a blanket probation, prohibiting the health system from starting new residency programs or increasing the size of those that already exist.
Dr. Cliff Deveny, Summa’s interim president and CEO, informed staff that Summa had lost its appeal in a memo Wednesday afternoon.
“I pledge to our community and to each of you as members of the Summa family that despite today’s decision, we will remain completely committed to our [other] residency programs, we will continue to aggressively recruit core emergency medicine faculty and we will work tirelessly to rebuild the Emergency Medicine Residency Program,” Deveny said.
Deveny, a former Summa executive, returned to Akron and took over leadership of Summa on March 13, three days after Summa filed its appeals — technically called “requests for reconsideration” — with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.
A Summa spokesman said Deveny was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but Deveny previously said Summa was committed to educating future generations of physicians, even if its ER residency program was interrupted for a year.
What Summa argued in its appeals to the accreditation council is unclear, as is why those appeals failed.
In February, the Beacon Journal obtained a summary report of the accreditation council’s findings.
Among other things, council representatives said they found Summa patients were being sent home from Akron City’s ER after being seen by residents, not the supervising emergency room physicians, even after some of the residents sought their supervisors’ help.
The accreditation group also found delays in care for trauma patients and possible stroke victims and said new teaching staff brought in after Summa abruptly changed ER physician providers lacked the expertise needed to train new doctors.
While Summa was hopeful it would win its appeals, national observers said it was unlikely.
What led to suspension
The demise of Summa’s ER residency caps more than three months of upheaval at Summa, much of it involving its emergency departments.
It began during the last week of December when last-minute negotiations fell through between Summa and an independent physician group that staffed Summa’s five ERs at Akron City, Green, Medina, Barberton and Wadsworth. The physician group also served as faculty for Summa’s emergency medicine residency.
Summa’s then-president and CEO Dr. Thomas Malone, with the approval of Summa’s board of directors, replaced the physician group with US Acute Care Solutions (USACS), a Canton-based company that staffs more than 160 emergency departments nationwide.
Such transitions often take 30 to 90 days. Summa’s happened overnight on New Year’s Day, setting off a firestorm among physicians and drawing unwanted national attention.
On Jan. 26, after more than 250 Summa doctors backed a no-confidence vote in Malone and his leadership team, Malone resigned.
Two weeks later, the accreditation council suspended Summa’s ER residency program.
Future for residents
For decades, Summa’s residency program has served as a physician farm team, grooming medical school graduates — many from Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) in Rootstown — who end up taking root in Greater Akron.
On National Match Day on March 17, when medical students across the U.S. learned where they would complete their residency programs, 22 of NEOMED’s 139 students attending a Match Day event found out they were heading to Summa.
How that compares with years past is unclear. Summa did not say, but none of the incoming residents will be studying emergency medicine. Summa withdrew itself from the running prior to Match Day because of the accreditation council’s action.
About 30 emergency medicine residents generally work at Akron City Hospital, 10 residents for each year of the three-year program.
A Summa spokesman said Wednesday the health system will help residents find new training programs. Their departure dates, which must be before July 1, have not been set.
The physician staffing company that now runs Summa’s ERs said it “will adjust the staffing of our physicians and advanced practice providers to meet the needs of our patients” to make up for the missing residents, a USACS spokesman said Wednesday in a statement.
In his memo Wednesday, Deveny tried to look beyond the ER residency program.
“Despite this news, I remain proud of the quality care being provided in our emergency departments as evidenced by the great report we received last week from the Joint Commission,” he said, referring to the results of a surprise two-day visit by a national accreditation group that investigated a patient safety complaint.
What the complaint was and what the Joint Commission found are not entirely clear.
Deveny last week said the Joint Commission report cited one issue “which involved one physician early in the (ER) transition process who treated a small number of patients prior to the completion of that physician’s individual credentialing process.” The issue has since been resolved.
But the Joint Commission — like the accreditation council that suspended Summa’s medical residency program — does not release its findings to the public. Summa can release the reports, but has declined.
“Now, together, we will move forward,” Deveny told staff in his memo, “with a renewed focus on improving the culture of the organization and continuing to deliver on our promise of population health.”
Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher contributed to this report. Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.