THE SUN HERALD
GULFPORT - The news that one Coast hospital might lose its entire active staff of neurologists comes at a time when there is a statewide shortage of the specialists.
Mississippi has the fewest neurologists in the United States, according to the American Academy of Neurology, which periodically studies the issue.
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and stroke.
While the national average is 3.68 neurologists per 100,000 people, Mississippi has 2.14 per 100,000. Massachusetts has the most neurologists with 6.62 per 100,000. The figures come from the academy's latest study on the future need for neurologists, which was published in Aug. 1999.
"The burden of neurological disease in the (United States) greatly exceeds the capacity of the current number of neurologists to provide care," the academy said in its study. "Other specialists provide a significant proportion of neurological care in both adult and child neurology. Presumably this will continue in the next two decades."
The issue became more relevant recently when the chief of staff at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport announced that the three neurologists on active staff were all taking a leave of absence.
"Consequently, there are no neurologists on active staff to provide inpatient consultations or other in-house neurologic services," Dr. Michael J. Diaz said in the memo to medical and dental staff.
The memo was dated Sept. 8 and referred to Drs. Sydney Smith III, Krishna Nalluri and Tina Neville. The doctors have not returned repeated phone calls.
Diane Gallagher, director of community and corporate relations, explained that the two neurologists on the hospital's consulting staff would care for patients.
"The citizens are covered, and the medical staff at Memorial wants everyone to know that we can take care of their neurologic needs," she said.
One of the doctors who helped with the academy's study said that as more people experience illnesses such as stroke, more neurologists will be needed.
"The neurological treatments are becoming more hyperactive, and you need more neurologists, not less," said Dr. Walter Bradley, chairman of the neurology department at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "It is often thought that emergency room physicians and internal medicine physicians can handle these problems, but they can't. I think it would be very difficult if you lost all of your active staff."
Medical staffs at hospitals usually place doctors into categories such as active, courtesy and consulting staffs.
Doctors on active staff usually use that hospital as their primary one. Doctors on courtesy staff may have the same privileges as those on active staff but don't work primarily at that hospital.
The rules and responsibilities for the types of staff - such as which doctors have to be on call - differ among hospitals.
The number of neurologists on active staff at Coast hospitals varies. Garden Park Medical Center has six; Biloxi Regional has four; Gulf Coast Medical Center has two, and Singing River Hospital and Ocean Springs Hospital share three.
Bradley said Mississippi will need even more of these specialists in the future.
"There is a need in general - but especially in rural states - for more
neurologists," he said.
Melissa Scallan can be reached at (228) 896-0541 or at firstname.lastname@example.org