Essentia Health copes with cardiothoracic surgeon shortage in the Twin PortsEssentia Health has only one cardiothoracic surgeon on staff in the Twin Ports following the sudden departure last week of Dr. Subbareddy Konda.
By: John Lundy , Duluth News Tribune
Essentia Health has only one cardiothoracic surgeon on staff in the Twin Ports following the sudden departure last week of Dr. Subbareddy Konda.
The hospital system, which already was short by a couple of cardiothoracic surgeons, is recruiting and plans to add three or four of the specialists to its staff, said Dr. Thomas Patnoe, president and chief medical officer for Essentia’s East Region. In the meantime, Essentia is filling the gap with “locum” surgeons — the medical equivalent of temps — and has referred some heart-surgery patients to St. Luke’s hospital, Patnoe said.
But there’s no cause for concern, he said.
“If, God forbid, I or one of my loved ones needed any kind of cardiothoracic surgery, I would be very confident,” Patnoe said.
Cardiothoracic surgeons perform surgery on the heart and lungs.
Konda notified Essentia last week that he was leaving. “Normally, there is a notice period, but in this case, it was mutually agreed to waive it,” said Sara Peterson, an Essentia spokeswoman.
Nonetheless, Konda’s parting was amicable, Patnoe said.
“He’s moving to Austin, Texas,” Patnoe explained. “He’s not been comfortable with the winter weather that we have in Duluth.”
Konda couldn’t be reached for comment, but his wife said there were no hard feelings.
“Duluth has been good to us,” she said.
The field of cardiothoracic surgery is changing rapidly, and there has been a lot of churn nationwide, Patnoe said. Dr. David Arzouman, a cardiothoracic surgeon who came to Essentia just a year ago, left two months ago.
“It still remains a high-demand specialty,” Patnoe said. “If you’re looking for a warmer climate, you certainly can find a warmer
The only cardiothoracic surgeon on the local Essentia staff now is Dr. John Streitz. His work is being supplemented by locums, qualified surgeons who serve as substitutes instead of full-time members of a staff. Locums typically come from another community, Patnoe said. They may be recent retirees, or they may be younger members of the profession who have not yet decided where they will settle. It’s a typical practice in health-care professions, he said, particularly among specialties with shortages.
“We’re working toward having two (locums) available at all times,” he said.
Essentia already has referred a “handful” of heart-surgery patients to St. Luke’s, Patnoe said.
Mary Greene, a St. Luke’s spokeswoman, confirmed the arrangement. “It is not unusual for St. Luke’s and Essentia to request assistance from each other when there is a need,” she wrote in an e-mail.
Dr. Mary Boylan, a cardiovascular surgeon at St. Luke’s, recently performed her 1,000th cardiovascular operation, Greene noted. St. Luke’s also is using a locum for heart surgeries and is expecting an additional cardiovascular surgeon to join the staff by this summer, she said.
Cardiovascular surgeons specialize on the heart and blood vessels.
Essentia hopes to hire a “section chair” for the cardiothoracic surgery program by this summer, Patnoe said. A candidate for that position is coming back for a third visit soon. Two or possibly three more surgeons would be added after that.