Santa Clara County will not renew a contract with an Ohio-based medical group overseeing emergency department doctors at Valley Medical Center in San Jose, one year after workers protested against the company.
The county Board of Supervisors voted earlier this month to let the contract with US Acute Care Solutions (USACS) expire at the end of June. Following a competitive bidding process, officials approved a new, five-year management contract with San Jose-based Emergency Physicians Associates Management Corporation, which already provides similar services at the county’s other two hospitals, O’Connor and St. Louise.
The contract for managing emergency department staffing for all three hospitals, as well as express care and urgent care clinics, is worth $51.5 million, according to county reports. There is a five-year extension option when the contract expires on June 30, 2028.
Doctors and nurses have accused USACS of putting profits before patient care. They claim the tough working conditions, as well as reductions in pay, drove out several physicians and their assistants, exacerbating staffing shortages and increasing patient wait times.
Emergency department workers at Valley Medical Center (VMC) walked off the job in early 2022 to protest ongoing short staffing issues they said were exacerbated by USACS mismanagement, especially during surges of COVID-19 infections.
“It seems like all the efforts we were making last year finally paid off, essentially,” a VMC emergency physician told San José Spotlight. The doctor asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation for speaking out against USACS.
Despite worker protests in 2022, the county opted to renew a contract with USACS for one year through June 2023 to align VMC’s contract end date with the other two hospitals.
“We understand the county went in a different direction and we respect their decision,” Dr. Amer Aldeen, chief medical officer for USACS, told San José Spotlight. “We remain committed to our mission to care for patients throughout the country.”
The physician also raised concerns that USACS appears to be trying to increase its profits by making operational changes through the remainder of its contact. The company recently started cutting back on using physician assistants during morning express care shifts, and is also apparently rescinding some shifts for additional doctors to help triage patients that come to the emergency department via ambulance and as walk-ins. Overall, the physician said the changes push more work onto doctors and could add to patient wait times.
County Executive Jeff Smith did not return a request for comment.
The physician who spoke with San José Spotlight said when word of the county shifting the Valley Medical Center contract away from USACS was posted in a social media group for emergency physicians, it was celebrated.
“This is one of the few instances when we are able to get rid of a corporate medical group that no one really in emergency medicine likes,” the doctor said.
While USACS touts itself as largely physician-owned, it’s financially backed by private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
“It’s kind of nationally known that these guys do not see health care as, ‘Let’s take care of the patients,’” the Valley Medical Center physician said. “It’s, ‘Let’s take care of us and the shareholders, making money for our company, private equity and big gurus who run things.’”
Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.
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