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Deaconess closing Parkinson’s clinic

Thu., June 18, 2009, midnight

Movement-disorder patients lament loss

Patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders are frustrated by a decision by the new owners of Deaconess Medical Center to close a clinic and dismiss its director, Dr. Anthony Santiago.

The Movement Disorder Clinic will close Aug. 5, Deaconess informed patients in a letter. Patients and their families were encouraged to find other neurologists from a list of four other medical groups in Spokane, or the Booth Gardner Parkinson’s Center near Seattle.

Deaconess officials said the closure is a cost-cutting measure necessary to maintain adequate funding for the hospital’s core services. Santiago will no longer be paid by Deaconess but will keep his hospital privileges.

Hospital spokeswoman Christine Varela noted that Deaconess will lose $10 million in Medicaid funding over the next two years.

“I think you’ll see hospitals across the state being extremely judicious where they use their resources,” she said.

Community Health Systems Inc. bought Deaconess, along with Valley Hospital and Medical Center, last September. In the months since, the hospital company has purchased new patient beds, upgraded technology and recruited new physicians. At the same time, the hospital has cut trauma care services at the hospital, struggled to bargain a new contract with union workers and closed the movement disorder clinic.

Santiago, a movement disorder specialist who left Rockwood Clinic several years ago, has built a loyal following, with a patient base of more than 800.

Many of Santiago’s patients are on Medicare, and patients say this makes the clinic a prime target for hospital budget-cutters.

Sue Green, whose mother is a patient at the clinic, said Santiago spent extra time with patients, which she said probably put him at odds with financial expectations.

Jeanette Ritner credited Santiago with providing her husband, Robert, expert care that included careful management of his prescriptions – key to living with Parkinson’s disease.

“My husband has been rejuvenated, and today he is active and enjoying life as opposed to not being able to do anything,” she said.

Bill Bell, executive director of the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, said the loss of Santiago’s practice will be a regional setback. Patients travel to see him from Montana, Idaho and across Eastern Washington.

“At what point do you put community care ahead of the bottom line?” Bell asked. “This decision is a tragedy for patients. What Spokane is losing is a doctor who is truly empathetic, knowledgeable and caring.”

There’s a disconnect, he said, between a patient’s desire for ample time to speak with a doctor and the financial reality of modern clinics, where a patient may see a doctor for mere minutes.

“Here we have a doctor who would take the time to understand a patient,” Bell said. “Even if a patient comes in and there’s not much that can be done, at the very least you can sit with them and hold their hand and listen.”

Santiago and his staff at the clinic in Liberty Lake were told not to speak with the press regarding the closure.

Bob Dunn, an attorney who represents Santiago in employment contract matters, said the doctor is trying to sort out his future after the surprise decision by Deaconess.

“(Dr. Santiago) regrets and has sadness that Community Health Systems has chosen to close the practice,” Dunn said, adding that his client hopes the region can support the needs of patients with neurodegenerative disorders.

The clinic served patients with disorders including dystonia, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s syndrome and essential tremor.

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