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Some procedures canceled as orthopedic surgeons begin leaving SSM Health

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SSM Health

SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Madison.

Surgeries and appointments with at least some of the 11 orthopedic surgeons leaving SSM Health to start an independent practice have been canceled weeks before the doctors said they planned to depart, leaving some patients confused and upset.

The disruption comes after the head of the surgeon group on Nov. 6 asked the CEOs of SSM Health’s hospitals in Madison, Janesville and Baraboo for a “patient care continuity” agreement by Nov. 15, before the doctors’ new practice opens in January.

The surgeon group and SSM Health will not disclose the result of the Nov. 6 request or confirm the current employment status of most of the surgeons. But it appears no agreement was reached, leading at least some of the surgeons to leave this month instead of at the end of the year and SSM Health to try to reschedule procedures with surgeons who remain.

“It’s incomprehensible ... and does nothing to improve the quality of life we were looking forward to,” said Kathy Helgeson, of Milton.

Helgeson’s husband Tom, 60, was scheduled for a long-awaited knee surgery with Dr. Brian Keyes in Janesville Nov. 16. Two days earlier, the couple got a call from SSM Health saying the procedure was canceled because Keyes had quit.

SSM Health said the Helgesons could see a surgeon in Madison instead, but the first appointment they could get with him, for an initial consultation, was Jan. 4. Surgery with the Madison doctor will not be until later, Helgeson said.

On Wednesday, after the Wisconsin State Journal asked SSM Health about the Helgesons’ situation, the couple got a call saying another surgeon could operate on Tom early next week because of a patient cancellation. But their work schedules and family demands prohibit that on such short notice, Helgeson said.

“Why wasn’t SSM better prepared for this type of outcome?” she said.

Mike Stearns, 59, of Janesville, said he learned Nov. 15 that a visit he had scheduled with Keyes for Dec. 6 was canceled. Stearns, who had a hip replacement by Keyes in October, said Keyes’ office didn’t know who would see him at the follow-up visit.

“It’s not a great situation,” Stearns said. “He was the one who was actually in there, looking at my hip and repairing it. I’d really like to talk to him on the follow-up to get his take.”

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Keyes is among 11 orthopedic surgeons who submitted 90-day resignation notices in late September and plan to start Madison-based Orthopedic Physicians of Wisconsin in January. The independent group will be managed by Phoenix-based Healthcare Outcomes Performance, or HOPCo, which has similar arrangements with orthopedic groups in 32 states.

Orthopedic Physicians of Wisconsin plans to build a specialty orthopedics hospital and an ambulatory surgery center for outpatient procedures in Dane County by January 2025, its leader, Dr. Jason Sansone, told the State Journal earlier this month.

Additional surgery centers are planned, likely in the Janesville and Baraboo areas and possibly elsewhere in the region, Sansone said.

Operating privileges

Sansone said the orthopedic surgeons plan to maintain privileges to operate at SSM Health’s St. Mary’s hospitals in Madison and Janesville and its St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, even though they will no longer be employees, while expanding to other hospitals in the region. They are seeking a contract with Dean Health Plan, among other carriers, but don’t have one yet, he said.

Besides Keyes and Sansone, the other nine surgeons leaving are: Kashif Ali, Aaron Carpiaux, Rajit Chakravarty, Richard Glad, Dayton Opel, James Prosser, Joseph Sizensky, Brian Steffin and David Wolff.

Sansone said this week he is no longer employed by SSM Health. He declined to comment on the employment status of the other surgeons and said SSM Health hospitals, not the surgeons, are in charge of letting patients know about cancellations.

“My sights are set on the development of our independent group,” Sansone said.

SSM Health spokesperson Kim Sveum also wouldn’t confirm the employment status of the other doctors. SSM Health has been recruiting other orthopedic surgeons, but Sveum said she didn’t know how many had been hired.

“We have been proactively reaching out to any patient who had a previously scheduled surgery with one of the resigning physicians. We are rescheduling patients for the earliest appointments available,” Sveum said.

Patients can stay with an SSM Health surgeon or choose another doctor within their insurance network, she said.

In his Nov. 6 email to the hospital CEOs, Sansone proposed allowing the 11 surgeons to do any surgeries already scheduled for 2022 or 2023, “so as to not disrupt the patient-surgeon relationship.”

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