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Chaotic contract vote to come again

Tampa General Hospital's governing board temporarily ended its contract crisis Monday with the University of South Florida's anesthesiologists.

It happened by accident.

Board member Burt Lowe, who voted with the 6-to-5 majority to approve a contract, said he thought he was sending the hospital's managers back to the contract table.

"There was so much noise I literally didn't hear it," Lowe said.

At his request, board members will meet again at 4:30 p.m. today in the Tampa General board room, where the full 15-member board could rescind Monday's vote and reopen discussion.

Meanwhile, the delay in securing a contract had USF officials warning that "nervous faculty" could look elsewhere for jobs. The contract wrangle also could hurt the residency program, said Dr. Richard Hoffman, one of the negotiators and president of USF's Faculty Practice Plan.

"When all of us are sitting in the same lifeboat, folks, I don't think it would serve any of us well to drill a hole in the bottom of it," Hoffman said.

USF's anesthesiologists have been without a contract since July 1, 1993, and there has been concern that they could pull their services from the 1,000-bed public hospital.

Contract talks began in November, with the university asking the hospital to subsidize up to $5.3-million in estimated losses. That number later was revised to $1.81-million.

USF also asked for $400,000 for research, for exclusive access to the hospital, and for Tampa General to bar temporarily private anesthesiologists from joining the hospital staff. Two doctors already on staff would be protected from that provision.

Some private doctors, who complained of a history of scheduling problems and delays, turned out to oppose USF control over the hospital's operating rooms.

"Sometimes it is difficult to get cases started on time," said Dr. Nicholas J. Sears, a cardiovascular surgeon. "It would be nice to have a choice here. . . . I dislike being dictated to by one group of faculty members how the operating room is going to run."

The most vocal opposition came from the Florida Orthopaedic Institute, founded by former USF doctors who left the university to found their own corporation.

Throughout the four-hour debate Monday, most of Tampa General Hospital's board balked at the proposed contract terms.

Time after time, they voted down amended versions of the contract.

Board members called on hospital president David E. Bussone to determine whether anesthesiology losses could be subsidized by USF through undisclosed cash reserves. Several board members insisted that two doctors currently applying for the right to practice at Tampa General be allowed to continue that quest. They debated without resolution the proposed moratorium and exclusivity clause.

They rejected a revised $300,000 request for research funds.

Finally, County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky urged the board to delay the vote. There was great confusion, as board members suggested that Bussone renegotiate with USF. Amid noise and an exodus of board members, Jay Wolfson, USF's representative to the board, again submitted the contract to a vote.

This time it passed.

Hours later, board chairman Frank Fleischer called a new meeting.

"I don't want anybody to say there was confusion," he said.

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