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Castor blames hospital for rift

(ran NS, S editions of Tampa Bay and State)

University of South Florida President Betty Castor, in a sternly worded letter released Monday, blamed Tampa General Hospital's governing board for causing a "breakdown" in their partnership.

The letter was in response to the board's decision last week to reject a $1.8-million contract with USF's anesthesiologists.

Board members at that session accused USF officials of withholding financial information and unfairly looking to the public hospital for a handout.

Castor responded Monday that the university was forthcoming with financial information. She said USF lost about $2-million last year because Tampa General made "unrealistic" demands for additional coverage in the operating rooms by USF's anesthesiologists.

"The failure to reach a negotiated solution to the Anesthesiology issue, compounded by the perplexing adversarial sentiment exhibited by many members of the HCHA Board over the tumultuous course of this discussion, represent a serious breakdown in the affiliation between USF and TGH," Castor wrote.

"(This) compromises our ability to collaborate in the new healthcare marketplace, and, moreover, ill-serves our constituents and the public's interest."

Hospital President David Bussone was on vacation Monday and unavailable for comment.

Board Chairman Frank Fleischer, to whom the letter was sent, distributed it to board members with a request for neutrality.

"Refrain from any action or comments that would further exacerbate our relationship with the University," he wrote. Fleischer declined to comment further.

Castor wrote that she is alarmed by the "distrustful tenor" that led to the hospital board's rejection of the contract. She warned that it threatens the operating agreement between the USF medical school and the teaching hospital.

USF's anesthesiologists have been working without a contract since July 1, 1993. Castor called on Fleischer to reach a settlement for back pay. She also asserted that Dr. John Downs, whose role as anesthesiology chairman was attacked by Fleischer, will continue to lead the department.

She said USF anesthesiologists will continue to provide care to the patients of USF doctors and private surgeons who agree to an exclusive contract with USF. But there will be no guarantee that private surgeons who also rely on private anesthesiologists will be able to count on a USF anesthesiologist to provide services.

USF unsuccessfully sought an exclusive lock on anesthesiology services at Tampa General.