Hospitals not expecting problems with Code Blue protest

Thousands of doctors across Pennsylvania plan to close their offices next week as part of a protest called Code Blue. By protesting, the physicians are hoping to draw attention to the medical malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania.
Locally, the Code Blue protest should have minimal effect on the Altoona and Bon Secours Holy Family Hospitals.
“We have over 250 medical staff here with privileges at Altoona Hospital and some will be participating in various ways,” said spokesman Ron McConnell. “We have prepared with the key people to make sure that the services that need to be open will be open. The emergency room, operating room and trauma center will be fully functional. Some of the elective procedures may have already been or possibly could be canceled. All necessary services will be fully open, fully staffed and functional.”
Last year, Pennsylvania surgeons threatened to stop performing operations to protest high insurance premiums, but backed off when Gov. Ed Rendell promised a $220 million reduction in their payments this year.
“We gave Mr. Rendell the benefit of the doubt,” said Dr. Joseph Esposito, a Harrisburg surgeon. “We have given him an additional five months to work on this and nothing has happened, just promises. Unless there is a long-term solution, there is going to be a meltdown worse than Three Mile Island in the next year.”
A state task force on the malpractice crisis urged a series of actions to lower malpractice premiums, but recommended further study on the doctors’ pet cause: a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering.
“There will not be an interruption of services at Bon Secours Holy Family Hospital,” said Jay Knarr, marketing and communications specialist. “For people who need care, our doors will be open to them.”
Locally, one practice, Blair Orthopedic Associates will close their offices on Wednesday to participate in protest activities in State College. Phone calls to Blair Orthopedic Associates were not returned to The Daily Herald at press time. The Daily Herald also contacted Tyrone Hospital to inquire about services during Code Blue, but information was not available at press time.
Doctors say exploding insurance premiums have made it increasingly difficult to make a living in Pennsylvania. Since 2001, more than 1,000 physicians have either left the state, retired early or stopped performing high-risk procedures to avoid paying annual malpractice premiums as high as $200,000, according to Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Rendell’s spokeswoman, Kate Phillips criticized the walkouts as misguided and defended the governor’s record on malpractice reform.
“If you ask people if the governor has done more than others in the past to make progress on solving these issues, I think the answer would be yes,” Phillips said. “It’s unfortunate this group of doctors is using such unfortunate rhetoric against the governor who is in their corner.”
Code Blue is expected to begin across the state on Monday and conclude on May 6.
Editor’s note: Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam contributed to this story.