The Tampa General Hospital board's rejection Tuesday of a contract with the University of South Florida's anesthesiologists left stunned officials questioning the future of their partnership.
"We've got some serious problems to face," USF College of Medicine Dean Marvin Dunn said after the vote. "I thought this was a committed teaching hospital. I'm quite surprised at the outcome."
Hospital President David Bussone, who negotiated the contract and urged its passage, also warned that the vote could jeopardize the relationship between the hospital and USF's medical school.
Board members had voted Monday to pay the anesthesiology department $1.5-million to subsidize its services. USF officials say they are losing money and want the hospital to cover those losses.
But one board member later said he misunderstood what he was voting for. They met again Tuesday in an emergency session, this time rescinding that decision and telling USF to find its own cash supply.
"Folks, we have people standing here with their hand out with no documentation whatsoever," said board member Burt Lowe, who was among the majority of members criticizing USF's failure to disclose its financial secrets to hospital negotiators.
After Tuesday's 9-4 vote, board members briefly discussed how to avert a potential crisis in the hospital's operating rooms. USF officials have hinted that without a contract the department could pull its anesthesiologists out of Tampa General, forcing the public hospital to scramble to hire private anesthesiologists.
They said the lack of a contract also could jeopardize USF's residency program, which trains anesthesiologists.
Tuesday's vote was applauded by some private surgeons, including cardiologists and doctors from the private Florida Orthopaedic Institute who have criticized scheduling problems in the operating rooms.
All agreed that patient care is not the issue in the dispute. No one could estimate what additional costs, if any, would be passed on to patients and their insurance companies as a result of the decision.
USF's anesthesiologists have been without a contract since July 1. Talks began in November, with USF asking Tampa General to help cover its financial losses. It also asked that private anesthesiologists be temporarily barred from joining the staff.
Meanwhile, hospital negotiators wanted improved service.
Some of the service problems were blamed on department chairmen Dr. John Downs, brought to USF six years ago to rebuild the department after it lost its accreditation. The negotiated agreement called for Downs to relinquish control of operations at the hospital, and Tuesday, Dr. Roy Cane was appointed to run clinical operations there.
But board chairman Frank Fleischer, one of the hospital's negotiators, said he withdrew his support of the contract Tuesday after discovering that Downs retained fiscal control of anesthesiology. He questioned whether that action would be enough to correct current problems.