By REED KELLEY
MEEKER | Two years ago this month, Pioneers Medical Center (PMC) welcomed Dr. Asem Bakkar on board as the health facility’s general surgeon. Bakkar was recruited to Meeker from six years in a surgical residency at Maricopa Integrated Health Systems in Phoenix, Ariz. Bakkar’s training and specialties there were open appendectomies, colon and rectal surgeries, various hernia repairs, thyroidectomies, gall bladder and stomach surgeries. He also specialized in small town general surgery training, PMC Chief Executive Officer Ken Harman told the Herald Times.
At that time, Harman stressed, “We are so fortunate to find such a talented and super well-trained surgeon who was looking for a rural hospital practice in our neck of the woods. We liked his personality and Asem has long-term ties in the area. He went to undergraduate school at the University of Wyoming, has family in the area and considers the Derby Creek area north of Dotsero, on the southeastern edge of the Flat Tops, his favorite hunting ground. We could hardly be more enthusiastic about him.”
Last Friday, without any prior notice, PMC told Bakkar, 48, that for business reasons they were ending their contract with him. Thus, Harman stated, “PMC and Dr. Bakkar have parted ways.” Harman reiterated that this was for business, not clinical, reasons and that PMC had honored all the provisions of their contract (severance pay and the like). Harman also said that Bakkar would continue to have privileges at the hospital if he wanted them.
According to Bakkar, continuing hospital privileges means if he wanted to go out on his own, put his own office together, pay his own malpractice liability insurance, and so forth, he would be able to have his patients admitted to PMC as necessary. Bakkar added that the patient load PMC has provided him to date would not cover those expenses, let alone any payment for his professional services.
“PMC strives to provide stability in service and personnel, but change happens,” Harman said. He admits that the surgery load PMC had projected for Bakkar has not met expectations. In contrast, the orthopedic surgery demands for the services of Dr. Kevin Borchard and his partners have been very strong and growing. Harman said most orthopedic surgeons prefer to do initial, first-time joint replacement work. Borchard and his associates, however, have developed an expertise in joint replacement revisions, i.e., removing and replacing joint repairs. Harman said that PMC now is becoming a center of excellence for revision and initial orthopedic surgeries with referrals coming from all around the area, including Denver.
Bakkar said Borchard even repaired his mother’s wrist, broken while trying to conquer the Appalachian Trail a year and a half ago, and that he has nothing but the highest praise for Borchard’s skill and orthopedic knowledge. Bakkar’s mother, Linda Bakkar, has also now relocated from Washington and become a Meeker resident and homeowner.
Harman said the business plan for PMC is to expand surgical services through visiting surgeons in more specialized areas such as urology, expanded colonoscopies with Dr. Gerard Tomasso from Glenwood Springs, spinal surgeries and neurology. PMC is also expecting to have two new family practice physicians on board in the next few months. Harman is hoping one will be here within a couple months. The other is due to start July 30. These doctors will be filling in behind Dr. Tessa Landa who left PMC for personal reasons at the end of 2017, moving with her daughter to the Eagle area.
At the beginning, PMC contracted with Bakkar on a part-time basis and asked him to be on call only 10 days a month. In order to keep up his skills and meet his professional goals, Bakkar has been doing surgery stints at Valley View in Glenwood Springs and Fort Morgan, Colo., and Glasgow and Sydney, Mont., hospitals. He maintains his working relationship with Valley View and patients can follow him there. For his part, however, Bakkar said the thing that has bothered him the most about being cut from PMC is that he was severed from his patients overnight and vice versa. He was told to cancel any scheduled surgeries, that his malpractice insurance was no longer covered, and that follow-up patients would be directed to Dr. Williams. Harman said PMC would be contacting all Bakkar’s current patients to explain their options, which would include having Bakkar treat them through Valley View. Bakkar said he cannot understand why PMC wouldn’t have had him continue follow-up care with current patients, at least through the end of the month. His contract was effective for another year.
Bakkar and his wife, Bonnie, a nurse, chose to come to Meeker on the promise of practicing “relationship medicine.” Bakkar feels what’s developed with PMC in the last week is quite the opposite and indicative of corporate financial expediency rather than patient-centered care.
The Bakkars have two children enrolled in the Meeker School District. Bonnie said the kids are really enjoying school, and unlike life in big cities where they’ve been, they feel safe going anywhere here.
By REED KELLEY