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Legislature leaves state in medical crisis

It has yet to happen here to our local medical community, butone has to wonder if it will soon — unless the governor and theLegislature find a solution to reform the runaway legal system inMississippi.

In Greenwood, Dr. John Fair Lucas III closed his practice at theend of February after being sued for the fourth time in threeyears. Dr. Lucas is a third generation surgeon in the Delta citywhere he practiced with his father. His decision caused theGreenwood hospital to lose its Level III trauma care status,leaving a trauma care void in the Delta. A well-respected anddedicated surgeon who trained for seven years at Duke University,Dr. Lucas had little choice. He could no longer financially affordthe practice of medicine. He is considering moving his practice toanother state.

Across Mississippi, OB-GYN doctors are reconsidering theirpractices with some now refusing to delivery babies. In northMississippi, six neurosurgeons have left the Tupelo area in thepast year.

Closer to home in Natchez, a group of doctors met two weeks agowith Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to discuss their plan to close theiroffices in Natchez and build a new hospital across the river inVidalia, La., where the legal climate is not in such a disarray.Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster reportedly is courting the physicianslike Musgrove courted Nissan.

A few miles south in Centreville, the Field Memorial Hospitalhas until July 1 to decide how it is going to survive. That’s theday its entire medical staff loses its medical malpracticeinsurance. The nine physicians at the hospital lost their insurancewhen the St. Paul’s Insurance Company left the state recently. Ifinsurance coverage is not found, which to date they have not beensuccessful, the hospital may be forced to close its doors.Wilkinson County stands to lose its second largest employer and 110jobs!

Field Memorial Hospital is not your typical county hospital. Itwas originally a privately-owned facility founded by the Fieldfamily in 1928. It — like all other county hospitals — isdedicated to its community. The difference is family. Dr. DickField, the 75-year-old son of the founder, still practices but isdismayed over the thought of closing the doors of the facilitywhere he has dedicated 46 years of his life. With his son Rich,also a surgeon, they make up the hospital’s surgical staff.

The Mississippi Legislature again this year thumbed its nose attort reform and killed bills that would have capped themulti-million dollar verdicts being handed down in places likeJefferson County, where over 20,000 plaintiff suits have been filedin the last few years.

Mississippi is in a legal crisis, and it is not just the medicalcommunity that is suffering. Every business and industry in thestate is feeling the effect.

Unfortunately, our legislative leaders refuse to show concern.Dr. Field points his finger at two in particular — Lt. GovernorAmy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford. “They appoint the chairmen ofjudicial committees, who just happen to be plaintiff attorneysinterested in their own cause,” Dr. Fields said in a phoneinterview Thursday night. “They simply refuse to bring the billsout of committee,”

This legislative session, as in years past, tort reform billsnever made it to the floor of either chamber. All were bottled upin the judicial committees.

One wonders what it will take and how many individuals will haveto suffer before a ground swell of protest from voters will makethe lawmakers and the governor stand up and take notice.

In Greenwood, the situation can already be blamed for theunfortunate and untimely death of a man who died in a Jacksonhospital after the surgeon shortage forced his transfer!

Dr. Field says he is concerned about his patients. “Over 70percent of our patients are on Medicare or Medicaid. They do nothave the means or can they afford to travel to Natchez, McComb orBrookhaven for medical care. What are they to do?”

“If I have to,” Dr. Field told me, “I will practice withoutinsurance to keep from closing the doors of the hospital my fatherfounded.”

Unfortunately, there are very few doctors who have thewhere-for-all or the ability to follow his lead, and that is whereMississippi has a problem.