Standing outside the glass wall of the nursery on the third floor of the Broward General Medical Center this past Sunday, Dr. Reynald Pouliot gazed at the two babies who slept peacefully in two of the many cribs.
"This is going to be like a ghost town without SunLife," says Pouliot, a 56-year-old native of Canada who has a Clouseau-like accent and a face reminiscent of a more austere Dick Van Dyke.
A nurse pushing a wheelchair ambles by.
"I hate to see SunLife leaving," she says, asking that her name not be used for fear of losing her job.
SunLife Ob/Gyn Services, which provided care at Broward General for the past 20 years, left the building this past weekend. Hospital staff doesn't care about the company; it's the doctors and midwives who work for SunLife -- and their experience -- that will be missed. The place seems gutted, the staff demoralized. And the shame of it all is that the loss has nothing to do with medical care. It's all about corruption.
"We need experienced doctors here," says Pouliot, who has been delivering babies at Broward General for 15 years and has no financial connection to SunLife. "We need a team, and it took a very long time for this team to mature. SunLife and their years of experience are priceless -- priceless. Do you know what we're fighting for here? We're fighting for the mothers of Broward County. There are women that could die because of what is happening.
"Politics has taken precedence over care, and that infuriates me."
In December, district officials handed the contract to provide ob-gyn services at Broward General and the Seventh Avenue Family Health Center to Stephen Scott, who ran his previous company, PhyAmerica, into bankruptcy (see "Deliver Us," January 29). Why did such a dubious figure get the $11 million contract? For one, he's a huge financier of the GOP and Gov. Jeb Bush, who appoints North Broward Hospital District commissioners. He also has general counsel William Scherer and influential district lobbyist Jim Blosser on his payroll.
The district gave Scott the contract in December despite the fact that his new company, NB Ob/Gyn Physicians, didn't have any, um, physicians. And that has caused quite the mess. SunLife was kind enough to fill the gap in January without a contract, but now NB's incomplete band of new hires must deliver babies (more than 2,500 a year), handle tens of thousands of pregnancy-related calls, provide 24-hour emergency room services, staff a perinatal intensive care unit, and care for 2,000 indigent patients a year at the Seventh Avenue facility.
According to sources close to the situation, Scott's company on Sunday had only three full-time physicians on staff and five part-timers -- as opposed to the 16 physicians, eight midwives, and 100-strong support staff that SunLife provided. Scott has refused to comment on the situation to New Times. Medically speaking, it's a prescription for trouble, especially when there is an obstetrician shortage in Florida. The truth is that most doctors don't want to deliver babies or care for pregnant women anymore since the specialty is at very high risk for malpractice suits. "The only doctors that the district will get are bottom feeders," Pouliot says.
District CEO Wil Trower, amazingly, has told the district's seven Jeb!-appointed commissioners that nothing will change. But he can't say he wasn't warned. Pouliot wrote Trower and the commissioners a stirring letter on January 21, pleading that they keep SunLife. Some passages:
"Consider this a last cry for help on behalf of the young women who would want to deliver at Broward General Medical Center in the future, and bring their children to your beautiful hospital for care...
"Your remaining private obstetricians won't be able to fill properly the positions... You are moving away from a united team... to a gathering of scattered, unorganized physicians...
"The quality of your OB services is going to become both substandard and unsustainable... One or two political powers... are about to murder your existing ob/gyn department. Please act responsibly before it is too late."
The letter was signed, "Reynald Pouliot MD, a caring obstetrician no money can buy."
Unfortunately, money can buy just about everything else at the district, including contracts to deliver Broward's babies.
While the district has yet to end its relationship with Scott, it did recently abandon a plan to build a medically questionable "stand-alone emergency room" in Sunrise.
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That new development was revealed at last week's board meeting and -- insert sounds of chest-beating here -- followed a column of mine published in December revealing that one of a makeshift company's principals, Russell McKinnon, had a felony fraud charge in his past and that such facilities are outlawed in California. McKinnon left Strata shortly after the column was published.
"When it came out that [McKinnon] had a criminal record, he was removed all of the sudden," district chairman J. Luis Rodriguez told me after the meeting. "And on our questions about their finances, a lot of the answers were not available. Those are not the kind of guys you want to do business with."
Some commissioners, however, aren't happy that the staff scrapped the deal, so they persuaded Trower and Scherer to reevaluate the situation. Commissioner Cora Braynon, for one, complained that she was already "picking out colors" for the emergency room. "I made a lot of promises to a lot of people," she groused at last week's meeting.
Yes, Ms. Braynon, it's all about your pride, not our tax dollars or health resources. By the way, I suggest red, since it's the color of debt.