The charge for flying a critically ill baby to Primary Children's Medical Center appears to have jumped drastically after the University of Utah's Neonatal Transport Team was disbanded at midnight Friday and Primary Children's new team took over.
The Deseret News obtained a copy of the fees Primary Children's Medical Center plans to bill parents and insurance companies for flying babies from around the Intermountain Area to its facility. The Deseret News obtained a similar list of fees charged by the U. Hospital.Officials from both hospitals verified their respective fees. However, Primary Children's disputes the U.'s fees.
The lists show that Primary Children's charges are sharply higher than those charged by the U. for flying babies to Primary Children's - an issue that fueled the ire of U. flight nurses grounded Friday. (See chart on B2.)
For example, according to the lists the U. charges $934 for flying a baby by helicopter from Jordan Valley Hospital to Primary Children's. Primary Children's will charge $1,596 for the same service.
After years of contracting with the U. Hospital to transport babies to its facility, Primary Children's did not renew its contract with its neighbor hospital. It began its own neonatal transport business, instead. Primary stuck by its decision even after the U. offered to reduce transport charges, said John Dwan, director of public relations for the U. Health Sciences Center. U. neonatal transport nurses said the U. offered to reduce charges by 16 percent.
"We would have taken a financial loss on that, but it would have been worth it to keep the system together," said Robyn Moriarty, program director of the U.'s neonatal transport team.
U. officials said because 85 percent of their team's business was with Primary Children's, the U. could no longer legitimately support the employment of 12 flight nurses.
Emotions ran high at both hospitals Friday as the U.'s 20-year-old team dissolved and another, operated by Primary Children's, began to take shape. Primary Children's, an Intermountain Health Care hospital, scrambled to put together its own neonatal transport team Friday afternoon, hiring two neonatal nurses from the U.'s transport team, said Bonnie Midget, spokeswoman for Primary Children's.
The rest of Primary Children's team willbe composed of neonatal nurses and neonatologists from Primary Children's, she said. Midget said the team would be ready to go at midnight Friday, when the contract expired.
Although Primary Children's offered jobs to all of the U.'s neonatal flight nurses, the rest of U. team opted Friday to stay with the U. for the time being, said U. neonatal flight nurse Bruce McPherson.
Many team members expressed anger over the dissolution of their nationally renowned team. "I can't believe Primary can do this to us or the U. could let us go," said Sue Squire, a flight nurse who helped organize the U.'s Neonatal Transport Team in 1971.
One of the reasons some of the nurses cited for refusing jobs with the Primary team was the higher fees Primary Children's plans to charge.
"Primary said their transport program will be more cost-effective for patients," Squire said. "But they have lied to us. Primary charges are much higher."
Midget said, "We stand by our charges. We do not know what the list the U. gave you says, but we do know what we have been billed by them up until today. We know that in all cases, we are comparable and in most cases we are much less."
But Moriarty said the rate sheet the U. gave the Deseret News form the basis for all bills sent to Primary.
Patient charges were only one issue disturbing members of the U.'s Neonatal Transport Team.
Many team members are 10-to-15-year employees of the U. and "would be giving up a great deal in benefits" by becoming IHC employees, McPher-son said.
Primary Children's and the U. attempted to forge an agreement that would have allowed the nurses to be employed by the U.'s department of medicine and yet be compensated through that department by Primary Children's. But the U.'s legal counsel rejected the agreement Thursday because of the concern of possible antitrust violations, said Dwan.
McPherson said Primary Children's did make some concessions to the U. team on certain benefits, but the U. nurses raised other concerns about leaving their present employment.
Some nurses expressed concern about the attorney general office's investigation into the possible antitrust violation between the U. and Primary.
Squire said the nurses Friday were "going to sit together through the night and decide what our options will be and make a decision Monday."
"We talked with our attorney and he told us to think about the issues, stay together as a group and make a decision when we have had time to think about everything," Squire said. "Our big issue isn't over money, but that they (Primary) want control of the team."
McPherson said each transport nurse received a personal letter from the U. director of hospital personnel, assuring them a "nurse position in the U.'s Newborn Intensive Care Unit."
That, however, was little comfort to Squire, who feels the U.'s neonatal program also has been severely damaged.
"For years we have transported as a U. Hospital and have kept both Primary's and the U.'s nurseries full of babies. We've had plenty of physicians to take care of them adequately," she said. "All of a sudden the docs and the residents have moved to Primary, so there are minimal physicians at the U. Hospital, which has made us decrease our newborn census."
Dwan said because many of the neonatal transport nurses have apparently elected to stay on at the U. Hospital assuming other duties, "we will always have the capability of transporting a newborn.
"We are a major medical center and have the capability of providing the full range of medical and transport services. Although we are disbanding the team, we will have the capability to transport newborns if we are requested to do so by physicians."
A comparison of current charges for transporting a baby by helicopter to Primary Children's Medical Center by the U. team and Primary Children's team as determined from price lists.
Hospital Miles University Primary
Cottonwood 20 $621 $1,296
Jordan Valley 36 $934 $1,596
McKay-Dee 72 $1,473 $1,996
Logan 150 $2,633 $2,851
A comparison of current charges for transporting a baby by plane to Primary Children's Medical Center by the U. team and the Primary Children's team as determined from price lists.
Town Miles University Primary
Price 212 $1,580 $2,338
Rock Springs 312 $2,094 $2,910
Twin Falls 384 $2,478 $3,344
Butte 786 $4,546 $5,644
*The listed charges include use of plane or helicopter, round-trip mileage, and team costs for one pilot and two nurses. The charges do not include the cost of any medical equipment, which varies from baby to baby.