Hospital buys out doctor-owned clinic

By Jonnie Taté Finn

Sanford Clinic’s reach grew Wednesday when it announced the purchase of one of Sioux Falls’ few remaining physician-owned clinics.

University Physicians Clinic, which treats a broad range of ailments, was considered by many to be the last of its kind, although physician-owned specialty clinics still exist in Sioux Falls.

Those involved with the deal tout the benefits to patients and students at Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, but others see the potential for conflict if physicians aren’t allowed to make choices independent of Sanford Clinic.

Regardless, patients of the new Sanford Clinic USD Physicians will continue to be seen in the lower level of the Talley Building on the Sanford USD Medical Center campus through January. Sanford Clinic President Dan Blue wouldn’t comment on the financial aspects of the deal but said the operation will relocate in February to Medical Building 1.

“University Physicians has functioned as both an opportunity for faculty to take care of patients and a mechanism for faculty to teach medical students in a clinical environment,” said Rod Parry, dean of the medical school. “Our slogan has been, ‘We practice what we teach.’ In reality, this partnership will continue that mission.”

Susan Anderson, a family medicine physician who will join Sanford Clinic USD Physicians, agreed.

“We have always had a strong relationship with Sanford Clinic and its physicians,” Anderson said. “Sanford USD Medical Center is a leading academic medical center, and joining with Sanford Clinic allows our patients and students to have an even greater connection to Sanford’s outstanding services and staff.”

Different masters?

That connection concerned Blake Curd, a board member of Physician Hospitals of America, which represents physician-owned hospitals.

“My own perspective is physicians ought to be independent,” said Curd, a hand/microvascular surgeon at the physician-owned Orthopedics Institute in Sioux Falls. “Then they’re free to act in the best interest of patients, rather than in the best interest of the large health care organization. When you serve a couple different masters, it becomes difficult to do that.”

While Curd gives USD’s medical school high marks, he cautioned that the new partnership could hinder academics if Sanford Clinic is given too much control.

“I think when a main arm of the medical school is in fact owned by a large health care organization, it could have a potential conflict of interest if medical students are geared toward one hospital over another,” Curd said.

He added that medical students have the option to train at various and competing medical centers across the state, and he hopes that doesn’t change.

“They have to make sure they’re providing educational opportunities in the best place possible and not because of some kind of allegiance to a certain hospital,” Curd said of the USD medical school.

Parry doesn’t expect much change on either the patient care or academic level. “The change is an increase in learning opportunities,” he said.

For instance, he said students now will have access to electronic medical records and specialty doctors through Sanford Clinic USD Physicians.
Help with business end

Blue said the partnership also will strengthen the practice’s business management.

“We’ll work with them much more closely to help them with managing the clinical practice piece, which we think will help enhance the practice, so that … it will be a better situation for them,” Blue said.

In 2002, University Physicians shrank its practice dramatically, and many doctors left for Avera McKennan or what was then known as Sioux Valley. McGreevy Clinic was the most recent independent physician group to partner with a major hospital when Avera bought it in 2006. Before that, Central Plains Clinic sold its operation to what was then Sioux Valley in 2001.

Of University Physician’s 12 faculty staff, six will join Sanford Clinic USD Physicians: Susan Anderson, Bruce Vogt, Valerie Hearns, Janet Lindemann, Mike Tibbitts and LuAnn Eidsness. The others either are retiring or taking positions at other hospitals.

“These are all great doctors with a great reputation in the community and the state,” said Kenyon Gleason, Avera’s media and public relations director. “This seems like a logical move and not entirely unexpected given that University Physicians has been on their campus for years.”

Blue said Sanford will work closely with physicians to make decisions for the clinic, and patient care will be administered much the same way as before.

“We’re hoping to recruit and provide maybe even better service and coverage,” he said.
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