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Context for petition to improve health care at Mercy

By Concerned, Retired Mercy Physicians

History and stated mission

In 1882, the Sisters of Mercy came to Durango to serve the health care needs of the people of the Four Corners. For 140 years, the medical staff has proudly honored and maintained this mission.

Mercy’s commitment

Medical care excellence and breadth of service was enhanced in the early 1990s as Mercy became the sole full-service hospital in Durango. In 2006, committed donors, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, provided substantial local backing for a new facility, Mercy Regional Medical Center. Since the return of Centura Health’s governance and management in 2011, we have witnessed concerning reductions in Mercy’s staffing and capabilities.

Dramatic recent loss of providers

Mercy has lost over 50 active medical providers (physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) in the past several years. Over 20 primary care providers have left our area in the last five years including nine in the last year and a half. Clinic nursing staff has also declined by over 60%. Access to primary care is a major and growing problem for our community. This is most difficult for adults with Medicare or Medicaid coverage, as well as for those with no health insurance. Specialist physician staffing has also become inadequate to the needs of our region, most notably in cardiology, oncology and pulmonology.

Quality and safety concerns related to high provider turnover

Mortality rates in communities increase with the loss of provider continuity as explicitly demonstrated in numerous recent medical studies. Mercy’s excessive turnover of clinical providers is alarming. Centura’s responsibility to recruit and retain providers is one of their most essential tasks. Good medical care requires continuity for a therapeutic doctor-patient relationship. High-risk patients are most burdened by frequent changes in their personal providers. The ongoing substitution of temporary traveling physicians in place of permanent providers is a serious problem.

Consequences of inadequate medical staffing in our remote community

Southwest Colorado’s remote location underscores our need for a broad spectrum of high-quality in-patient and out-patient services. Our remoteness is a key difference between us and most Centura facility locations. Transporting patients out of Durango because of services no longer provided increases their financial and emotional stress and that of their families. We are now less able to care for our own at Mercy.

The noted loss of medical personnel has a dampening effect on provider recruitment. Economic development and growth will be compromised as prospective residents question the adequacy of our local health care system. We are concerned about diminishment of Mercy’s historic leading role in the Four Corners region; instead, we are becoming a feeder hospital for other Centura facilities. We question Centura’s long-term vision for our community.

Petition for improved health care

We, the undersigned, are writing to Centura leadership to express our deep concerns over the deteriorating status of health care in our community and to urge prompt action to increase the number of health professionals to adequately meet the needs of our region.

Melissa Youssef*, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Linda Campbell, Ellen Roberts, Rick O’Block, Bill Willson, Dean Brookie, Steve Parker, Jerry Zink, Karen Zink, Barbara McLachlan*, Keith NewboldAttorney, 17 concerned physicians who have practiced at Mercy and who helped write this petition.

* Local politicians stating their views as individuals