OLEAN — Three members of Southern Tier Anesthesiologists have found a home at another Southern Tier hospital, bringing further closure to the drama surrounding the group’s departure from Olean General Hospital.
STA’s Dr. Stephen Carlson, Dr. Wade Porterfield and Dr. Orlando Cruz accepted offers last month to join UPMC Cole in Coudersport, Pa., Carlson told the Olean Times Herald Monday. The three physicians begin at Cole’s anesthesia department Jan. 1 — one day after STA’s contract with OGH expires.
“We’re all looking forward, we’re all moving on,” said Carlson, who is STA’s president. “It’s not what we chose, but we’re looking forward.”
In August, OGH announced that it would not renew STA’s contract at the end of the year and had instead accepted an offer from Buffalo-based Great Lakes Anesthesiology. STA had serviced OGH since the Olean-based physician group’s inception 24 years ago.
While STA’s six physicians, two certified registered nurse anesthetists and two office employees discussed staying together by finding a new contract with another medical provider outside of Olean, Carlson said Monday those talks “didn’t seem to work out.”
“We had other facilities say, ‘We’ll take the whole group and move you to another city or a different state.’ We did have those opportunities, but cohesively it’s a hard decision to make,” he said.
Carlson noted he, Porterfield and Cruz were hired at UPMC Cole as individual physicians, not through a contract with STA. Come Jan. 1, the group and its name will no longer exist.
A spokesperson for UPMC Cole, formerly Cole Memorial Hospital, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
“(UPMC Cole) approached us and it seemed to be a great fit for the next phase of our lives,” said Carlson, noting it will allow the colleagues to stay in the local area. He plans to continue living in Olean while making the roughly hour-long commute to Coudersport.
As for the other STA members, Carlson said most have figured out their next step. The wives of Dr. Hector Martinez and Dr. Spencer Russell have publicly posted in an STA support Facebook group that their families are headed to Florida and Virginia, respectively, come Jan. 1.
Carlson said while “there’s plenty of work out there available for us” as anesthesia physicians, members wished to stay at OGH and living in the Olean area.
OGH’s decision not to renew STA’s contract led community members to express fears about local job losses and physicians leaving the area.
For that reason, there was a grassroots effort to push OGH to reconsider. Community members, led by Rick Smith, who has family ties with Carlson, picketed outside the hospital on several occasions and held a Sept. 20 rally in Lincoln Park.
Even local politicians joined the effort. The Olean Common Council adopted a resolution Aug. 28 asking OGH to renegotiate, while Common Council President John Crawford and Cattaraugus County Legislator John Padlo attended the Lincoln Park rally and expressed concern more jobs could be affected under OGH and Upper Allegheny Health System’s new parent company Kaleida Health.
Carlson said while STA members appreciated the support, they “wish that everybody could move forward now.”
OGH officials have called the decision to go with Great Lakes a financial one that will save the hospital, which operated at a loss of $3 million in 2016, “several million dollars.” Neither STA nor OGH have been willing to disclose the exact figures of either STA or Great Lakes’ proposals.
After the initial Great Lakes announcement, Upper Allegheny President and CEO Tim Finan reopened negotiations with STA and STA lowered its bid. However, the OGH Board of Directors said in an Aug. 30 letter that the “remaining gap was just too great.”
Carlson previously told the Times Herald his group offered to match Great Lakes’ proposal, but that “it didn’t seem to be received by the hospital.” On Monday, Carlson didn’t wish to speak about why negotiations fell through.
“That’s a question the hospital has to answer, not me,” he said. “I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t think about that. I’ve moved on from that. I’ve stopped thinking about that three months ago.”
STA plans to sell its office at 202 N. Barry St., which the group purchased in 2009 and renovated.
While it will be difficult to no longer all work with each other, Carlson said he, Porterfield and Cruz will stay in touch with the others.
“We’ll still be a group in someway even though the group structure of STA doesn’t continue,” he said. “I think that some things you can’t take away.”
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)