Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Doctors Get OK to Work at Satilla; Waycross Hospital Had Contracted with Rival Physicians

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Doctors Get OK to Work at Satilla; Waycross Hospital Had Contracted with Rival Physicians

Article excerpt

Byline: TERRY DICKSON

Twelve cardiologists whose privileges had been restricted at Satilla Regional Medical Center in Waycross can go back to work under an order issued by Superior Court Judge Dwayne Gillis.

Satilla Health Services, which operates the hospital, had banned 10 cardiologists from St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville -- who practice as Diagnostic Cardiology Associates -- from using hospital space, equipment and staff.

The hospital had also made it difficult for Willie Bell and Joel Ferree to treat patients inside the hospital, their lawyers asserted.

The order compels the hospital to provide unfettered access to all 12 doctors.

The fight over cardiology services ensued after the hospital could not reach an agreement with Bell and Ferree, two former St. Vincent's Medical Center doctors, to renew their longstanding contract for cardiology coverage.

The hospital signed a new contract with Baptist Specialty Physicians Inc. and enforced a non-compete clause that restricted Bell and Ferree from practicing within 20 miles of the hospital. Baptist Specialty Physicians is affiliated with Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville.

The hospital later restricted access for the 10 doctors from St. Vincent's.

Bell said Friday he and Ferree were "delighted at the judge's decision."

During more than 15 years of practicing in Waycross, he and Ferree have seen hundreds of patients with heart and vascular illnesses and made sure they received the treatment they needed, Bell said.

"Our colleagues at Diagnostic Cardiology Associates and Satilla are part of that team, and this decision ensures that together we will be able to continue to provide the very best heart care to our community," Bell said.

APPEAL EXPECTED

Satilla Chief Executive Officer Robert Trimm said the hospital is disappointed with Gillis' ruling. The decision will hinder the growth and development of its comprehensive cardiology program, he said.

"We certainly expect to appeal this decision," Trimm said.

In his 18-page order, Gillis said Satilla's enforcement of a non-compete clause to bar the doctors from exercising their staff privileges goes against the best interest of the public. …

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