DOWNEY − For the first time in 30 years, a new medical group will manage the emergency room at the former Downey Regional Medical Center, now PIH Health Hospital - Downey.
PIH Health officials announced last week that Downey Acute Care Medical Group, which currently manages the hospital's emergency department, will be replaced by Dallas-based EmCare, a leading national provider of clinical services.
"After extensive review of several potential medical groups to provide emergency care services to its patients, including the current group, PIH Health Hospital - Downey has selected a new medical group and is currently in contract discussions," said Monique Rodriguez, manager of public and community relations for PIH Health.
While PIH expects many of the physicians from the Downey Acute Medical Group to remain on staff when EmCare takes over, not all of the employees are excited about the changes.
"We're happy PIH purchased the hospital from Downey Regional Medical Center and got us out of bankruptcy, but this is a sad day for the community," said Dr. Jack Kennis, associate director of the emergency department at PIH Downey.
Kennis has treated patients at the Downey hospital since 1983. He believes the decision by PIH to remove Downey Acute Care Medical Group is a signal that the administration desires a more hands-on role in the emergency room.
"And that's a mistake," he said. "The independence of the emergency room is important, but PIH doesn't want an independent contractor, it wants employees that it can fire at will."
While Kennis acknowledged that PIH Health is offering jobs to many of the current nurses and physicians, he also maintains the shift has alienated longtime employees who plan on leaving the hospital as a result.
Several former employees and current patients joined Kennis at the Downey City Council meeting last Tuesday to protest the PIH's decision.
Downey resident Sandra Orzoco receives regular care at the PIH Health Hospital, located at 11500 Brookshire Ave., due to her multiple sclerosis. She praised the Downey emergency room for its assistance through the years, but expressed concern that a large, national group may "lower the standard of patient care."
Downey city councilmembers could not publicly respond to the comments last week at the meeting, but city officials are keeping an eye on the emergency room developments.
According to one Downey official, the conditions at the emergency room have always provided a challenge for residents with unacceptable wait times.
"We're hopeful this change improves the quality of care our residents receive," they said.
Changes to the emergency room are already underway at the hospital. In 2014, PIH Health announced that it will invest nearly $5.5 million into expanding the current emergency department, adding approximately 5,000-sq.-ft. with 12 additional beds.
PIH Health could not confirm when it expects EmCare to assume control of the emergency room, but when it does, the new group will control its own billing, receiving payments from patients for medical services just like Downey Acute Care Medical Group did in past years.