A group of 49 physicians associated with Summa Health wants patients and the public to know there are positive things going on at the hospitals despite recent challenges.

These doctors say patient care is excellent even with Summa appealing its pending loss of accreditation to train emergency room doctors and the hospital system’s other residency training programs being put on probation. The Joint Commission, another accreditation group, also confirmed that it was on site in recent days for a visit regarding a patient safety concern.

The turmoil reached the top of Summa’s leadership, with Chief Executive Officer Dr. Thomas Malone resigning under pressure in late January.

But the group of doctors speaking out points to Malone’s replacement, Dr. Cliff Deveny, an Akron native and Summa veteran who returned to Summa last Monday to serve as interim CEO, as perhaps the salve that can heal deep wounds among staff and in the community.

The doctors said they banded together a few weeks ago in response to the challenges facing the hospital system and the 11 weeks of news spotlighting the problems since Summa abruptly changed emergency room physician groups following a Jan. 1 breakdown in contract negotiations.

The doctors said they decided to speak out after reading last Sunday’s Beacon Journal story, in which nine Summa Akron City emergency room nurses said they believed some of the new ER physicians put patients’ lives in danger. Summa and the emergency medicine doctor group disputed the nurses’ allegations, saying the ER physicians are qualified and competent.

The doctors submitted a letter with 49 names to the Beacon Journal outlining their concerns and their endorsement of Summa.

“For us, the idea that replacing one capable group of doctors with another should call into question the care provided by our entire institution is unimaginable. ...”

“We can say with full confidence that we stand by the safety and quality of the care being provided by our emergency room colleagues,” the letter said. The group represents a wide variety of physicians, including some employed directly by Summa Health Medical Group and doctors who are part of independent groups who see patients at Summa’s hospitals, the doctors said.

Nurses’ concerns

Three representatives of the physician group who met with Beacon Journal reporters on Thursday said they are not disputing the concerns the nurses raised, and praised the work of nurses. But the doctors said that despite having their own concerns about potential problems with the rapid switch in ER doctors, they personally had no issues with the care the new doctors were giving in the ER and would highly recommend use of the ER and Summa’s other departments.

“I’m not here to say their concerns are not valid. I can just say that my experience is the quality [in the ER] is good. I have not seen any drop in quality,” said Dr. James Dom Dera, an independent family practice physician who also serves as patient-centered home medical director, Summa’s local effort to redesign how primary care is designed and delivered.

However, Dom Dera said what the nurses have “seen and what they have experienced clearly is something that needs to be worked on in the system.”

Dom Dera and Dr. Anthony Muni, an independent hospitalist — a physician who exclusively cares for patients in hospitals — both acknowledged that they initially had concerns about how the quick turnover of emergency room doctors from longtime providers Summa Emergency Associates (SEA) to US Acute Care Solutions (USACS) on Jan. 1 would play out.

Muni, who worked the overnight shift from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 at Akron City Hospital, said his “tensions were calmed pretty immediately. It wasn’t mass chaos. The transition from SEA to USACS from my vision was as collegial as it could be.”

Muni, Dom Dera and Dr. Brian Bauman, a Summa-employed pulmonary and critical care physician who works in the intensive care unit, all said they have seen no drop in the quality of care in the emergency room and have full faith in the USACS doctors.

Patient questions

Another doctor, speaking apart from the group of 49 physicians, acknowledged that colleagues in his private practice group may offer more candidly critical replies to patients who ask, “What is going on with Summa?”

On Monday, Dr Kevin Mineo, who leads Unity Health Network, one of the largest groups of independent physicians in the area, sent a memo to physicians in the group regarding the news story on ER nurses’ concerns, changes in Summa’s intensive care unit that prevent Unity’s independent physicians from treating patients at City Hospital (its contract was recently not renewed by Summa) and other issues.

“Our organization cannot ignore these quality issues that Summa is experiencing,” Mineo said in the memo sent to about 120 area physicians. “Our patients deserve the ability to have us scrutinize the care that is delivered to them so we can ensure they are getting the best care possible.”

Mineo and many members of his group have been outspoken critics of Summa since it switched ER physician groups. Some Summa officials have dismissed their complaints because Mineo and many of the doctors in his group are investors in Western Reserve Hospital, which is in an ongoing legal battle with Summa over what happens to the Cuyahoga Falls facility.

Cultural shift

Dom Dera, Muni and Bauman said they believe that Deveny, Summa’s new interim CEO, will change the culture of the hospitals and be more inclusive of all doctors — even those who may have had issues with Malone.

The doctors said Deveny’s predecessor turned the hospital system around financially, but may have lacked the interpersonal skills to navigate physician relationships.

The three physicians said they were not among more than 250 who signed a no-confidence letter ahead of Malone’s resignation.

“What Dr. Malone lacked was listening skills,” said Bauman. “His vision in a lot of ways was something to be commended. He saw some of the future of the health care.”

Deveny has been active in meeting with doctors and nurses and staff in his first week on the job, Bauman said.

Dom Dera said Deveny will communicate better and “heal some wounds [between physicians and administrators] that have been exposed over the last few years.”

Not all Summa employees feel the same way. Some have expressed concerns about personal and business ties Deveny has had to the head of the emergency medicine physician staffing firm and other Summa senior leaders. Deveny has been upfront about the relationships and hopes the transparency will help him avoid any mistrust now.

The physicians’ group ended its letter by saying, “We will continue to recommend our friends and family to Summa doctors and hospitals for high-quality care, and we will make every effort to ensure that the recent disruption does not ruin our community’s best local health care asset.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com.