Enloe may partner in for-profit surgery center

The Enloe Medical Center is about to form a partnership with a group of local surgeons looking to open their own outpatient surgery center. Right now the nonprofit Enloe owns and operates the ambulatory surgery center—also known as “same day surgery"—located on Bruce Road near California Park.

News of the partnership and its negotiations were kept quiet until somebody leaked some of the information, which suggested Enloe was selling off the center. Before the leak spread too far, Enloe took action. On Monday, July 16, Enloe administrator Dan Neumeister met with surgery center employees and announced the hospital’s intentions.

The hospital, Neumeister told the News & Review, is currently engaged in conversation with some of the physicians affiliated with the ambulatory surgery center regarding a joint venture.

Enloe owns the building and operates the center, Neumeister said. Under a joint partnership, the center would become a for-profit business.

“This would generate more revenue for the doctors,” Neumeister said. “We told them, ‘Don’t go with somebody else,’ and that it would be a smart move for them to stay with us. They’ve been looking at various opportunities.”

Surgery, he said, is one of the few hospital services that pay for themselves.

“Physicians don’t have to come here to work if they don’t want to,” he said. “So we said, ‘Let’s try to work together.'”

Neumeister made it clear that there is no deal yet.

“This is a little premature,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of interesting talks, but nobody has put up any money yet.”

Neumeister did say, however, that a deal could be completed within “three or four months.”

He explained that in such joint ventures, which he said more and more hospitals across the country are entering, a third party is brought in to manage operations, and the employees, if kept on, “become employees of that new entity, not Enloe.”

He said that because Enloe has a shortage of health care workers and that there are almost constant openings on staff, there is a good chance the hospital would hire the nurses at the main facility.

“I can really understand the [employees'] potential anxiety,” he said. “It’s the change. They realize they are very good at what they do, and it’s a matter of do they stay with the new venture or come back to Enloe?”

Enloe will maintain ownership of the building, Neumeister said. “The general public won’t see any difference. We are simply creating a partnership with physicians.”

Ironically, once the partnership is formed, the California Nurses Association, the union voted in by registered nurses last year for representation in contract negotiations, will no longer represent the nurses who work at the surgery center. Those negotiations are still in progress and expected to last up to six more months.

Among the nurses who work at the center are a number in their 50s working at the top pay scale, as well as some single moms with young children. There is reportedly great insecurity right now among the nurses working at the center, which is considered a plum position—hours are almost exclusively daytime and there is no weekend work.

Currently Enloe is employing a number of temporary nurses who are put up in old Victorian house on First Avenue that up until Enloe bought it a year or so ago was a retirement home.

The temp nurses, brought on, Enloe says, to shore up the nursing shortage that exists nationwide, are reportedly paid much more than Enloe’s permanent nurses. Critics within the nursing ranks say the temporary nurses are in fact in place to act as scabs if the nurses go on strike should contract negotiations fail.

“We do have some traveling nurses,” said Neumeister, “but that is not our preference. We’d like to have our own folks. But as it is, almost all hospitals are using temporary nurses.”

David Welch, a registered nurse at Enloe and a member of the contract negotiating team, said the nurses at the surgery center would not be forgotten.

"It’s going to difficult for some nurses out there, and this is not really a union issue," he said. "The hospital has a right to do this. And in general Enloe has a reputation for treating people in these kinds of situations fairly. And it is our intent to make sure all the nurses involved are treated fairly."