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Local physician calls situation 'crisis'

January 03, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A local doctor who heads an organization representing Eastern Panhandle physicians said he hopes local doctors will not walk off their jobs because of skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums.

But because the situation is so dire, Konrad Nau said it is hard to predict what local doctors will do if something is not done soon to control high medical malpractice insurance premiums.

"This should really be a sign to the Legislature and the public that we are at a crisis situation. This is not a few people who are disgruntled," said Nau, medical director for Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., and president of the Eastern Panhandle Medical Society.

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"To take a step like this is really the step before the end of the road. They (doctors) just can't do it anymore and they don't want to work under these conditions," Nau said Thursday afternoon.

Nau was referring to the decision by more than two dozen doctors in the state's Northern Panhandle to begin 30-day leaves of absence to protest what they say is the state's inadequate response to their skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums.

The leaves of absence were to begin Wednesday or within the next few days. Some hospitals were transferring patients and cutting staff hours in response to the walkouts.

Nau said the walkouts "should be an eye opener of how terrible our situation is."

Nau said the walkouts are happening because nothing has been done to control the huge jury awards in medical malpractice suits. Nau said there should be a system in place to compensate people who may be injured in a medical procedure, but the process needs to occur in a rapid manner.

The problem in West Virginia is that cases drag on for years, and in many cases, lawyers walk away with more money than the patients, Nau said.

In Martinsburg, W.Va., Teresa McCabe, a spokeswoman for City Hospital, said she only knows for sure that several doctors will be off work Jan. 13.

That's the day doctors will appear before the state Legislature in Charleston, W.Va., to discuss their concerns, an annual event called "White Coat Day."

"None of our physicians, that we know of, are planning any strike," McCabe said Thursday afternoon.

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