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Harsh commercials are latest development in spat between Atrium Health and doctors

Atrium Health's flagship hospital in Dilworth. A war of words between Atrium and a company that provides anesthesiologists to most of its Charlotte-area hospitals has spilled over into Charlotte radio.
Atrium Health's flagship hospital in Dilworth. A war of words between Atrium and a company that provides anesthesiologists to most of its Charlotte-area hospitals has spilled over into Charlotte radio. deroberts@charlotteobserver.com

A war of words between Atrium Health and a company that provides anesthesiologists to most of its Charlotte-area hospitals has spilled over into Charlotte radio.

A dramatic commercial on 1110 AM features an actor who flat-lines while being put to sleep prior to a medical procedure. Another actor, apparently part of the medical staff, starts calling urgently for an anesthesiologist to intervene but none appear to be available.

It's the latest attempt by Southeast Anesthesiology Consultants to draw attention to a contract it has lost from Atrium, which has switched to a new vendor that takes over in July. Southeast is paying for the commercials, according to Mednax, the Florida-based publicly traded company of which Southeast is an affiliate.

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Charlotte-based Southeast, which employs about 90 doctors at Atrium facilities, has warned through a media campaign that Atrium intends to adopt a radically different anesthesiology model with greater reliance on nurse anesthetists. That model will jeopardize patient safety, Southeast has said.

Atrium, the Charlotte-based hospital system formerly known Carolinas HealthCare, has strongly denied such claims. The system has said it did not renew the contract because, among other things, Mednax refused contract provisions that would have ensured patient safety.

Regarding the radio commercial, Atrium referred the Observer to earlier statements it has made about the dispute. In a statement this week, Atrium said Mednax has been spreading false and misleading information online and in other advertisements about its decision to change vendors.

Dr. Thomas Wherry, founder of new vendor Scope Anesthesia of North Carolina, on Friday disputed Southeast's claims. He said the ratio of physicians to nurse anesthetists at Atrium facilities won't change come July 1. And he said implications that Atrium or Scope would do anything to put patients’ lives in danger are offensive.

"It is unfortunate that Mednax continues to use scare tactics and false information to mislead patients and families," Wherry said in a statement. "Scope is not changing the staffing model for patient care."

The commercials join other advertisements that have been used in the rare public spat over a medical contract.

That list includes a video version of the radio spot, which has been posted on a Facebook page sponsored by Southeast to call public attention to the contract loss. Southeast has also taken out newspaper ads and launched a website over the issue.

Mednax said Friday that the campaign also includes digital bulletin boards in the Charlotte metropolitan area.

This week, Southeast and Mednax sued Atrium over the terminated contract. The lawsuit also names Wherry and Charlotte-based Scope.



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