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Gill, Christenberry to join new KH surgical practice

Posted: January 29, 2013 5:43 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Dr. Paul Christenberry

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Kershaw County’s only two general surgeons, doctors Edward A. Gill and Paul Christenberry, are joining forces as part of an agreement to form KershawHealth General Surgery. Dr. Gill will leave Sentinel Health Partners while Dr. Christenberry will end his solo practice to join the healthcare organization.

Following a two-hour executive session during a special called meeting Monday of the KershawHealth Board of Trustees, members voted 5-3-1 to approve the agreements. Chairman Scott Ziemke and trustees Don Witham, Bobby Jones, George Corbin and Steve Holliday Jr. all voted in favor. Trustees Derial Ogburn, Karen Eckford and Paul Napper voted against, while Trustee Dr. Tallulah Holmstrom -- a Sentinel physician -- recused herself from the executive session and abstained from the vote.

Ogburn made it clear ahead of the vote he would not support the agreements.

“There are too many questions for this multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement,” he said.

Monday’s vote authorizes KershawHealth President and CEO Donnie Weeks to negotiate the contracts, including one to lease Gill’s 6,000-square-foot office on Roberts Street near the hospital’s main campus with first right of refusal should Gill decide to sell the property. Both doctors will locate there.

Eighteen months ago, a different makeup of trustees voted 6-0-2 -- with Holmstrom and former trustee Dr. Marguerite Carlton abstaining -- to authorize nearly the same agreements. The difference then was that the contract for Gill’s employment would have included the purchase of his office for $1 million under a financing agreement.

Tuesday, KershawHealth issued a press release stating that the healthcare organization will immediately begin recruiting a third surgeon to join the practice as a means of insuring that general surgery will be available in Kershaw County for years to come.

“Forming this two-physician practice is essential to ensure the continuation of strong general surgery services for our community,” Weeks said in a press release issued Tuesday afternoon. “In addition, it is a critical part of our ability to recruit a new general surgeon to Kershaw County. We recognize that it is very difficult to recruit a new physician into an existing solo practice.

KershawHealth recently commissioned a five-year community needs assessment by the Coker Group which highlighted the need for an additional general surgeon, especially since one surgeon left in 2011.

According to a December 2012 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association - Surgery, the number of surgeons in their own self-employed practice decreased from 48 percent to 33 percent between 2001 and 2009. Additionally, between 2006 and 2011, there was 32 percent increase in the number of surgeons employed full-time by hospitals, evidence of a growing trend, KershawHealth officials said in the release. They said employment trends were similar for both urban and rural practices, and that younger surgeons increasingly favor hospital employment.

Dr. Christenberry is a graduate of the University of South Alabama Medical School (USAMS) where he also completed his general surgery residency with post-doctoral fellowship. Additionally, he completed a vascular surgery fellowship at Carolinas Medical Center (Sanger Clinic) in 1988. He was a member of the KershawHealth medical staff from 1992 to 1997, and rejoined the medical staff in 2000 upon completion of his vascular surgery fellowship.

“Dr. Gill and I have great respect for KershawHealth and the staff there,” Dr. Christenberry said in the press release. “This partnership shows how committed KershawHealth is to providing critical surgical services to the people of Kershaw County. General and vascular surgery are essential -- they’re the kind of surgery you want to have done close to home -- and we need to ensure they’re available locally.”

Dr. Gill is a graduate of the Medical College of Georgia and also completed his surgical internship at USAMS. He was been a member of the Sentinel and KershawHealth staffs since 1990.

“I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Sentinel group for many years, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work closely with all Kershaw County physicians,” Dr. Gill said in the press release. “Dr. Christenberry and I have supported each other professionally for years, and we want to do everything possible to ensure general surgery services are a vital part of our medical community in the future.”

Weeks also pointed out in the press release that the recruitment of a third surgeon will also assist in lightening the rotation schedule for doctors Gill and Christenberry.

“This new KershawHealth physician practice offers benefits for everyone,” he said. “First of all, it helps ensure high-quality surgical services will continue to be available in Kershaw County and enhances our charitable mission. It (also) allows doctors Gill and Christenberry, both of whom are excellent surgeons, to effectively plan for the future of their practice and to provide continuity of care for all their patients.”

KershawHealth Vice President and COO/CFO Mike Bunch said the two doctors and their practice would benefit from the healthcare organization’s management resources and financial oversight.

“(It) provides the clinical integration, quality management and information technology components essential to future reimbursement models, and allows these talented surgeons to focus on patient care,” Bunch said.

In the press release, KershawHealth officials noted that doctors Gill and Christenberry performed nearly 900 general surgeries and vascular procedures at the main campus in 2012. They noted surgical volumes decreased 19 percent from Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2012, partially due to the absence of a third surgeon. That, in turn, has impacted KershawHealth’s overall patient revenue and operating income.

In a phone call Tuesday afternoon, Bunch confirmed that the agreements Weeks has been authorized to negotiate could end up equaling the “millions of dollars” Ogburn referred to, but said there would also be professional revenues coming to the hospital once the two surgeons are employed.

“Right now, those surgeons fees go to those practices, but when they’re employed, they will come to the hospital,” Bunch said.

He also noted that the proposed lease agreement for Dr. Gill’s building is based on fair market value and -- depending on the length of the lease -- is “likely to be significantly less” than the original 2011 sale price of $1 million.

Bunch said the lease is a “triple space” lease and would not include utilities, taxes and occupancy costs above the lease KershawHealth will pay to appropriate companies and agencies.



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