Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Hamilton County medical staff quitting

January 13, 2004

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— Hamilton County's decision to release a doctor from his role as an unpaid consultant to the county Health Department has touched off a medical crisis in the community.

Now there's not only a need to replace him in multiple other roles that he served in the western Kansas county on the Colorado border, but also to find successors for two top hospital officials who resigned in protest.

The commission, without consulting with Dr. Joseph J. Behal, decided Dec. 2 to replace him as medical consultant with Dr. George Matthews of Garden City. The commissioners figured Behal had his hands full with his other duties as primary staff physician at the Hamilton County Clinic, chief of staff at the hospital, medical director of the Hamilton County Extended Care Geriatric Unit, consultant to the ambulance service and deputy coroner.

Commission Chairman Jamie Cheatum said the commission expected that Matthews would sponsor a nurse practitioner, Marsha Lewis, who would actually be part of the medical staff.

But Matthews said he wasn't told of the job and didn't want it.

The commission later rescinded its action, saying it should have consulted with Behal before taking it, but the move came too late. Behal resigned from all his duties in the county Dec. 30.

The commission's action prompted Cindy Akers, the Hamilton County Hospital administrator, and Trudy Rash, its director of nursing, to resign.

On Dec. 16, Cheatum said, about 20 hospital employees attended a commission meeting, expressing fears that the hospital would be closed.

"We have no intention of closing the hospital, and we couldn't close it if we wanted to," Cheatum said.

A search is under way to replace Behal.

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