News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 17, 2019
Blue Hill hospital turns to TeamHealth for staffing help

by Faith DeAmbrose

“It is an evolution,” said Dr. Steven Berkowitz, Senior Vice President and Chief Physician Executive of Northern Light, speaking of a newly announced partnership between four Northern Light hospitals and a Tennessee-based staffing group, TeamHealth, that will soon staff emergency room doctors and hospitalists across those facilities.

In Blue Hill, it means that approximately seven physician positions will transition to TeamHealth. Currently the hospital employs 15 physicians across all its departments and has 343 employees company-wide.

The process of choosing the for-profit healthcare staffing firm came after an extensive search and a Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was many months in the making, said Berkowitz. Patient satisfaction was a metric used to make the decision—along with TeamHealth’s 95 percent employee retention rate.

Standards and transitions

The goal is to provide a seamless transition, said Berkowitz, with contracts offered to current emergency room doctors and hospitalists who will have the option to join TeamHealth. Hospital officials would not comment on which doctors would stay (in some cases those negotiations are still ongoing), but TeamHealth is advertising for a number of those position on its website.

John Ronan, CEO of both Blue Hill and Maine Coast hospitals, explained that all new TeamHealth staff would go through the same on-boarding process as any new Northern Light employee and would be expected to follow existing policies.

“TeamHealth employees are expected to maintain the same high standards and credentials [as current staff],” said Berkowitz, and “if they can’t satisfy those, then they can’t work here.” He said there are mechanisms for feedback and termination between the two companies, if needed.

Over the years, filling vacant positions has been a challenge at Blue Hill, as well as at neighboring Maine Coast Hospital and part of the move is meant to provide the most efficient levels of staffing throughout the year. “TeamHealth recruits nationwide and can cast a wide net,” said Ronan, adding that the coastal hospital sees an up-tick of use in the summer months and TeamHealth has the ability to bring on additional, temporary doctors to manage the busier times of the year.

Insurance, networks and billing

“When TeamHealth comes into a market they talk about insurance,” said Berkowitz. “Most of the time, they are already working with any identified companies” but if not, they will work to contract with those companies. If that doesn’t happen, he said—and if TeamHeath can not come to an agreement with a particular insurance company—they will not “balance bill” patients, referring to a practice where patients are billed for services above what an insurer will pay.

On the financial side, Ronan said Blue Hill hospital will work with TeamHealth to ensure that the same standards the hospital uses for free and sliding-scale fees will apply to all bills regardless of whether they come from the hospital or TeamHealth.

Patients will see separate bills from Blue Hill and TeamHealth if care overlaps those entities.

The hospital’s financial counseling services remain available to help patients answer questions about their bills, said Kelley Columber, Communications Director for Blue Hill and Maine Coast.

TeamHealth will transition the staffing of the Emergency Department on February 1 and the hospitalists on March 1.