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OV supports medical malpractice reform

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Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2005 12:00 am | Updated: 7:50 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

March 9, 2005 - Thomas Scully planned to spend a recent Sunday afternoon showing his family, visitors from snowy Indiana, around Tucson.

As a neurologist working with several local hospitals, he had worked at least 20 days without reprieve. He had spent long hours in surgery and was looking forward to a much-needed break.

But then came the phone call.

Northwest Medical Center had a patient who needed a neurosurgeon. Could he come in?

He asked the hospital to try to find someone else, but was not that surprised when he received another call, less than a half hour later, telling him there was no one else available.

When Scully first came to Tucson in 1994, every emergency room in the area had a neurologist on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But now, he said, Northwest Medical Center only has someone three to four days a week; St. Mary's, only one to two days; and the new Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley does not have someone on staff at all, yet.

So when the person on the other end of the line said the patient with a hemorrhaging brain would have to be transferred to San Diego - Phoenix area hospitals were full - Scully went to have that familiar conversation with his wife. She told him she knew he would not be able to sleep that night unless he went in to help.

"We are taught to put our personal life, fatigue, everything else, aside and to do it over and over again," he said of medical professionals. "But we need to know we have the people's support and the support of our patients."

Scully conveyed his story to Oro Valley councilmembers during their March 2 meeting, thanking them for considering a resolution to encourage the Arizona Legislature to do something to address the costs of medical malpractice litigation.

Scully and about a dozen other health care professionals took turns at the podium telling the council how the rising cost of physician insurance is causing some to move out of the state and others to leave the profession altogether.

It's a national trend that is starting to affect everyone, including doctors in Oro Valley, and area professionals said they are grateful that Oro Valley is doing something on a local level to encourage a solution.

"This issue is so important," said another local doctor, Leonard Dipmenson. "We learn about the body in school, not the body politic. This is a novel and important approach Oro Valley is taking. It sends the message to Phoenix and to Washington that citizens are being affected."

And because of the recognized local effect, the Oro Valley council adopted the resolution unanimously.

Councilmember Conny Culver asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda for the council's consideration. Culver has been working with local doctors and other health care professionals to support legislative change in Arizona.

"As an elected official, I believe we have a duty to look out for the health, safety and welfare of our residents," Culver said, adding that she believes the state is in a health care "crisis."

Not only physicians stated their case for reform to the council.

Richard Underwood, a former longtime Oro Valley resident, spoke as a business owner, saying it is getting increasingly difficult to provide health care coverage to his 500 employees. He said, as it is now, he can only afford to offer the benefit to his top-tier employees.

Jerry Bustamante, of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce, and John Dougherty, of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, both addressed how health care issues affect the business community.

Bustamante said the chamber has made medical malpractice reform one of its top legislative priorities, because without doctors in the area, it is nearly impossible to recruit businesses to locate here.

Culver has organized a community forum scheduled for 1:30 to 4 p.m. March 9 in the Sun City Vistoso social hall auditorium, 1495 E. Rancho Vistoso Blvd.

There will be a presentation on access to physician care in southern Arizona, which will include talk on the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance and the shortage of doctors.

There will be a question-and-answer session, and Culver said she encourages residents who have questions pertaining to health care access to attend.

In other business, the council unanimously OK'd spending $73,000 to secure the site for the new Oro Valley Service Center, on 24 acres of land in Rancho Vistoso.

According to Town Engineer Bill Jansen, the site needs protection against further erosion. The town also will construct two gates at the entrances to the property, to keep vehicles off it.

The town plans to move the public works yard, now at 680 W. Calle Concordia, to the site, and locate the water utility and police storage and training center there.

It is currently seeking to acquire the land through condemnation proceedings filed against Monterey Homes, now Meritage Homes, which was planning to construct homes on the site.

While the case is still being heard in Pima County Superior Court, Judge John F. Kelly granted the town immediate possession of the land in January.

The item had been continued from the previous regular meeting because Vice Mayor Barry Gillaspie said the budget request of $250,000 was too much to approve without carefully examining how it would be spent. The previous plan had included a master plan of the site, which was taken out in the approved item.

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