Area clinics to close

As many as 6,000 patients may have to find a new doctor this fall when Potomac Hospital closes its family practice clinics in Dale City, Lake Ridge and North Stafford.

But before the Oct. 15 closing date, the hospital is offering the five physicians who staff the offices the option of buying the practices.

“We want the doctors to stay,” said Charlene Wilkins, spokeswoman for Potomac Hospital. “We are trying to make this a win-win situation.

“The need for primary care physicians still exists in Prince William County,” Wilkins said. “Potomac Hospital is prepared to assist the physicians in a variety of ways to encourage them to stay in the community.”

The doctors have not yet made their decisions, Wilkins said.

The exact number of patients affected is difficult to determine, she said.

A patient could visit a clinic one time and never return, another could make several visits over a short period of time and not return while another could visit regularly over a period of years.

The estimate of 6,000 represents the number of patients who have made at least one visit over the last two years, Wilkins said.

The Potomac Family Health Clinics are located at 5800 Mapledale Plaza in Dale City, 12604 Lake Ridge Road in Lake Ridge and 385 Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.

Potomac established the family practice in 1992 during a time when the industry trend was to bring in more general practice doctors to meet the needs of growing communities. These doctors were employed by the hospital.

The trend, however, has since changed. Hospitals nationwide have been deciding against owning family practices due in part to increasing operational costs, rising malpractice/liability insurance and declining insurance reimbursements, Wilkins said.

Like many hospital-owned practices, Potomac Family Health has been losing money for a number of years, Wilkins said.

Hospital-owned practices experience higher operating costs than those owned by physicians because they must comply with the same legal, accreditation, survey and regulatory standards as hospitals.

These standards include but are not limited to extensive documentation requirements, medical record policies, personnel policies, biomedical equipment regulations and various reimbursement rules, Wilkins said.

The Potomac Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees recently decided to hire consultants to look into the feasibility of continuing to run the clinics and absorb the losses or the possibility of closing the three clinics, Wilkins said.

“Potomac Hospital reviewed and analyzed the practice’s operational and financial performance, while taking into account local and regional trends and concluded that the most appropriate course of action was to divest the practices,” Wilkins said.

“This was purely a business decision and is not related to any quality of care issues,” Wilkins said.

The clinics’ physicians are being given the first opportunity to buy the practice at fair market value. The hospital is waiving contractual restrictions allowing the doctors to employ their current staff.

There are 17 nursing, clerical and support staff members who work at the clinics. Although it is yet to be determined whether the doctors will buy the practice and offer their staff jobs, the staff members may continue to retain positions with Potomac Hospital if they choose to do so, Wilkins said.

“There are no lay-offs (of staff),” Wilkins said. “We are not telling them that they are not employees here anymore. We are giving them their option.”

Some of the clinic staff has already accepted alternative positions within the hospital, Wilkins said.

Other hospitals in the area, including Prince William Hospital in Manassas, have had to resort to lay-offs citing declining reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, a jump in charity care and an increase in the cost of conducting daily business.

Prince William Hospital announced the elimination of 32 jobs, largely non-clinical ones, last month. It also cut non-labor costs such as reducing marketing expenses and cutting business travel.

Potomac Hospital, like any business, is always looking for ways to reduce expenses, Wilkins said. “There are many things we can do without affecting patient care,” Wilkins said. “We don’t have any plans to shut down services or lay off employees.”

While the hospital board made its decision to close the clinics last month, it has not formally told the patients yet.

“Letters will be sent to patients as soon as possible but we are waiting on the physicians’ decisions with the hope that these letters can announce the physicians’ assumption of the practices or at least include information on each physicians’ practice plans,” Wilkins said.

Some patients, however, have already heard about the closing informally. Among them is Kurt Russell of Dale City who has been a patient of the Dale City clinic for about two years.

“[The closing of the clinic] does concern me,” Russell said. “I am potentially losing the best general practioners I have ever had and it all comes down to money.”

Those looking for help finding a new doctor can call Potomac’s Health Connection referral service at (703) 221-2500 for assistance.