Six OB-GYN doctors and two midwives who deliver babies at Beaufort Memorial Hospital are leaving later this year to join a competitor.
The health care professionals -- with Werner, Royal Csakany OB-GYN and with Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology -- will continue deliveries at Beaufort Memorial until early 2014, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Those departures do not include doctors who perform births for local military personnel or low-income residents.
The two practices are planning to merge and join Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville, which is creating an OB-GYN program early next year. The hospital, which is owned by the Tenet Healthcare Corp., is planning a 16-bed center with capacity for 1,000 deliveries a year.
Coastal Carolina had stopped delivering babies nearly eight years ago, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Rick Toomey, CEO of the nonprofit Beaufort Memorial, said his hospital seeks to hire three new doctors to replace the ones leaving. Seven people have already applied for the positions, according to hospital spokeswoman Courtney McDermott. The hospital might also hire a midwife.
Toomey said the doctors' departure to join a larger hospital-based network is not surprising given the national trend away from independent medical practices.
"Physicians just want to practice medicine," he said. "They are looking to have someone else to take care of the administration and billing that continues to be more and more difficult."
Another factor in this trend is the growing uncertainty about how insurance companies and the government will reimburse doctors under the Affordable Care Act, Toomey said. A larger network can help doctors deal with that issue, while also offering benefits at a lower cost than the smaller practices could provide.
Beaufort Memorial held discussions with the two practices for almost a year, Toomey said, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement. The practices have already signed an agreement to join Coastal Carolina.
Toomey said that in hindsight, he "probably" would have handled negotiations differently. He declined to say why the eight doctors and midwives are leaving, although he indicated factors other than money drove the decision.
A secretary at Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology said media questions about the transition were being handled by Carolyn Grant, a spokeswoman for Coastal Carolina Hospital.
Grant said Thursday the two practices will keep their current offices in Beaufort.
Coastal Obstetrics and Gynecology will move its Bluffton location to the Bluffton Medical Campus off Buck Island Road after construction of the facility is finished early next year.
The practices will officially join Coastal Carolina Hospital in October, Grant said.
"This program will not only benefit mothers, but women who may be seeking specialized GYN care," Coastal Carolina CEO Bradley Talbert said in a statement.
"We will have a core group of physicians who can assess and treat their specific health problems. We plan to have a comprehensive women's unit that offers a wide range of services to treat the women and newborns in our community."
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