LOS BANOS — Linda Calleros felt more comfortable leaving her 93-year-old mother alone at night during her stay at Memorial Hospital Los Banos than she had on previous occasions.
Her mother, Felicitas Simmons, was admitted to the hospital last week with congestive heart failure.
Although it wasn't Simmons' first stay at Memorial, Calleros noticed something this time that put her at ease about leaving her mother -- there was always a doctor to talk to about her care.
The change that got Calleros' attention began this summer when Memorial contracted with a group of doctors who care for hospitalized patients instead of relying on their primary care physicians.
The new service model is part of a national trend. It's aimed at providing the quality care while reducing medical costs for both patients and the hospital. The program also provides relief to local primary-care physicians with overloaded schedules.
Called the "hospitalist" program, it consists of four doctors, usually specializing in internal medicine or family practice.
These hospitalists care for people being treated at Memorial and update their primary care physicians on their progress, officials said.
Hospitalists also care for "unassigned" patients, meaning those without a primary care doctor, and they make sure every patient fully understands their discharge instructions.
Dr. Robert Wachter, a hospitalist and chief of medical service at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, founded the specialty in 1999, said Dr. Michael Sepulveda, a Memorial hospitalist. Many hospitals throughout the country have adopted the program.
Memorial hospitalists work with Galen Inpatient Physicians, which contracts with the hospital, said Katie Kidder, spokeswoman for Sutter Health Central Valley Region. Memorial is a Sutter Health affiliate.
The hospitalists are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Sepulveda said. The program is designed to reduce patients' length of stay, risk of hospital-acquired infections and rate of re-admission and, as a result, health care costs, he said.
"Knowing that there's a doctor here to talk to anytime, that's amazing," Calleros said.
Before the program was introduced, Simmons' physician would come to the hospital in the morning to see patients, Calleros said, but sometimes he didn't have time. At times, she said, her mother had to wait for her regular office appointment to be seen by her own physician, which sometimes meant waiting a week after her release.
Now, Simmons doesn't have to wait to seen by a physician because she's seen by the hospitalists. "It makes me feel good to go home and know that she's being taken care of," Calleros said.
Sepulveda works three to four times a month at the hospital seeing patients. On average, he sees seven to 10 a day, he said.
Richard Liszewski, chief executive officer for Memorial, said hospitalists are able to spend more time with patients after they're admitted.
Liszewski believes that interaction gives the hospitalists a better picture of the patients' overall health condition that they can then respond to. "There's a real value to having an increased presence," he said.
The program helps lower the risk of morbidity and mortality, Sepulveda said. "I think it's a good service," he said. "It expedites care."
Dr. Juan Jose Vergara, an internal medicine doctor with Gould Medical Group in Los Banos, is among several community physicians involved in the program.
He said the hospitalists are able to see all of his patients' medical records while they are being treated at the hospital. Hospitalists are also able to discharge his patients rather than having to wait for Vergara to arrive and handle it.
Overall, the program is a good move for the patients, he said. "It's safer for the patient."
Plus, he said, the program not only benefits patients, but helps community physicians such as himself.
"It's good because I can spend more time with my patients here (at the office)," he said, adding that it's important to have additional time with them to establish a strong doctor-patient relationship.
"It's good for a small community to have a program like this," he said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.