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A half an hour before Wyoming County Community Health System conducted its monthly Board of Managers meeting, the lobby outside the meeting room was swarmed with citizens angry at last month’s decision to terminate Dr. Paul Mason’s contract prematurely.
About 100 people were waiting Tuesday evening, wanting to speak and looking for answers. Even when the board tried to limit the amount of people who would be able enter the room due to limited seating, the crowd refused and pushed their way in. While some sat in seats, the majority stood, some spilling out into the halls, and others resting against the room’s window ledges.
There they listened and questioned for an hour and a half. The meeting would go on for an additional 30 minutes after the crowd left before convening for an executive session which lasted an hour.
The answer they got to why Dr. Mason’s contract was terminated wasn’t the one they wanted.
“The only way you’ll ever hear the causes we have is if it goes to court and becomes public record,” said President Rich Kosmerl.
Mason — a highly popular orthopedic surgeon — had been with the WCCHS since 2014 and went full-time with the facility three years later. He has been cited by many as a key figure in turning the hospital’s once-poor reputation around, and replacing it with one of excellence.
The crowd included patients, doctors and staff.
Nancy Pump of Arcade said Dr. Mason operated on her two years ago when she couldn’t even walk because of her hip. She said Dr. Mason, James O’May and Becky Noon were the best people she ever had.
“You should be ashamed of your yourselves,” she said. “Look at yourselves in the mirror and seen what you have done to this county. This hospital worked like crazy to build itself up. I haven’t stepped foot in Springville hospital since this one became what it was. But guess what? I’m not coming back.”
Dr. Dale Deahn, a family physician from Arcade, has been working with the hospital for two and a half years. Since hearing about Dr. Mason’s termination, he said, he became concerned for the quality of orthopedic care for patients.
Deahn said he avoided making referrals to Warsaw for years, but Mason completely changed that opinion.
“He came to Warsaw with the attitude he loved the people here,” Deahn said, before choking up. “He put his heart and soul, and all his efforts into this program.”
Deahn said Dr. Mason’s presence was the reason he decided to align himself with Warsaw. As chief medical officer, Mason not only recruited Deahn but other qualified medical physicians.
Dr. Farkad Balaya, chief of OB/GYN services at WCCHS, came to Wyoming County to help out with surgery. Like Deahn, he was recruited by Mason.
He said they need to know why the board of directors is making decisions — that it can’t be behind closed doors.
“I’ve been working here as the only OB/GYN covering the hospital since Sept. 16, 24/7,” he said. “I was promised I was going to get help. Until now I don’t have help. “I was promised January,” he continued. “I was promised February. I was promised March. I don’t see that happening.”
Carrie Vangrol, a nurse practitioner and independent provider in Warsaw, passed around a list made in 2015 of providers who came to the hospital. Quite a few had an ‘X’ on them.
“Dr. (Lauren) Loss is gone,” Vangrol said. “My understanding is she was given an offer she couldn’t refuse. They wanted her to be on duty 24/7. They wanted her to be here within an hour of a call. Unacceptable. And a pay cut. A lot of the doctors have been bullied out, let go or just expendable.”
Vangrol said the administration at the hospital has to change — that right now the hospital is dying, which resulted in a murmur of agreement from the crowd.
Karin Rice, a registered operating room nurse at the hospital, started the online petition to bring Mason back to WCCHS. The petition had reached 2,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
Rice said she seriously believes the termination of the Buffalo Bone and Joint contract, Dr. Mason’s practice, is a serious and grave mistake which will be impossible for the WCCHS to rebound from.
“For the past two years I have spent hours of my personal time, along with my fellow colleagues — some of which whom just spoke earlier — trying to understand the decisions made by this board and administration,” she said. “I am well aware of the volatile health care environment, financial pressures and political burdens at the state level which has been forced upon us since the beginning of 2020. I have spent 40-plus hours a week living it.”
Rice said while some of these pressures have been heightened since the pandemic, many have always existed for rural hospitals. In her own research, she found out orthopedic care ranked as the third most lucrative speciality behind invasive cardiovascular surgery and neurosurgery. In a recent letter to The Daily News, Donald T. Eichenauer retired WCCHS CEO, said healthcare industry publications regularly identify orthopaedics as one of the top two or three financially positive practices that a hospital should build around to be successful.
WCCHS offers neither invasive cardiovascular surgery or neurosurgery.
The questions the crowd had focused on Why was Dr. Mason’s contract terminated. Was it political? A vendetta? Financial? Why did four other board members leave? Where is Dr. Mason now?
What answers they received, they weren’t happy with.
Kosmerl said he couldn’t talk about the reason he was let go due to state, federal and local laws. What the public did learn was it wasn’t for financial reasons, and the process started with now dead CEO Joseph McTernan a couple years ago. Last month the board voted 7-2 to follow McTernan’s decision and end Dr. Mason’s contract three years early.
As for current orthopedic care, the hospital brought in a spine surgeon for six weeks. Currently he is not qualified to see follow-ups for a hip or knee surgery, nor will he do any in the future.
A part-time orthopedic doctor will be brought in March for two weeks out of the month. What the public currently knows about him is he’s from Florida, according to the president, and not much else.
The hospital is also recruiting a full-time orthopedic physician.
In the meantime, the hospital has been recommending three orthopedic surgeons in Buffalo.
The public demanded for the hospital to renegotiate with Dr. Mason for a new contract. Kosmerl said while there is a chance for Dr. Mason to get reinstated, it’s unlikely. He said he wasn’t even sure if Dr. Mason would want to return to which the public cried out he did.
Even after publicly arguing for the majority of the meeting, the board of directors took no further action regarding Dr. Mason.