A conversation with Dr. Aydin Atilla, ER Director at LKMC - A man sitting in a chair - Lower Keys Medical Center

Key West doctor defends health care at Lower Keys Medical

Last month, at a contentious district hospital board meeting, Dr. Aydin Atilla, medical director of the Lower Keys Medical Center Emergency Room, was thrust into the spotlight and challenged on the care being provided in the ER.

At the meeting, a handful of individuals asserted that Dr. Atilla yielded an untenable amount of power in the ER. They claimed the needs of patients were either not being met, or were secondary, to other motives and agendas. By now, many in the community have either read or heard versions of those assertions in an online open letter, which was subsequently published in other media outlets. But Dr. Atilla argues that the grumblings of a few individuals, possibly with ulterior motives, were represented as though it was the opinion of the Key West community as a whole.

However, when the Keys Weekly reached out to Dr. Atilla for a response to some of the disparaging accusations, we were surprised to learn that he was (as of press time) never approached for comment by any other media sources. According to Dr. Atilla, many of the public accusations came without specific facts or the full corroborating accounts of all witnesses, which he said left him frustrated and disheartened.

Sitting down with Dr. Atilla provided a different depiction of how healthcare is administered at Lower Keys Medical Center’s ER.

For starters, Dr. Atilla said, he challenges anyone who questions his passion for administering healthcare, along with many of the staff members at the hospital, by simply exploring the other side of the story.

“There are more than 50 physicians working hard everyday — from surgeons, internists, sub-specialists, nurses and-mid level providers,” said Dr. Atilla. “They don’t deserve this. Claiming the hospital is corrupt, just because several patients were disappointed, is a horrifying statement.”

According to Dr. Atilla, the LKMC emergency room treated more than 22,000 patients last year and only received 40 complaints about service. During that time, he said the facility has become more observant to ER guidelines — particularly wait times. For example, those with chest pain must be attended to within 30 minutes and standard visits must be evaluated and admitted within 240 minutes.

“Whether insured or uninsured, care is being provided following strict guidelines and benchmarks,” Dr. Atilla said.

Another accusation made against Dr. Atilla, made by another doctor, asserted that ER physicians are not communicating with patients’ primary care doctors. But Dr. Atilla explained that an ER physician’s mission is different than a primary care physician’s. ER doctors are trained to assess and evaluate immediate care for the patient.

“If presenting symptoms of a heart attack, an ER doctor would consult a cardiologist — not the primary care doctor. One claim against the hospital at the district meeting was that the primary care doctor is not being contacted,” said Dr. Atilla. “There’s no law that says we have to call the primary care physician [when a patient arrives at the ER], but we always strive to do so.”

As director, Dr. Atilla said he acts as an ER manager over other doctors. He is on call 15 days a month, on average, and said he usually receives 15 to 25 phone calls a night. He evaluates patient complaints, assesses doctors’ performances and provides additional feedback to improve the care when needed. He also added that ER doctors are independent contractors at LKMC, and his role as manager means he’s often relegated to the role of facilitator, rather than having direct control over the doctors’ fulfillment of his or her duties.

“In that regard, being director doesn’t give you any power at all,” said Dr. Atilla.

Contrary to a published letter sent to Governor Rick Scott from former Key West City Commissioner Harry Bethel, Dr. Atilla stated that once patients are released from the ER, they are told to contact their primary doctors for further treatment.

“Primary care physicians should be at the helm of a patient’s health care,” said Dr. Atilla. “Never, in four years, have I ever abused my role at the ER to promote my own private practice. My practice is full and I am not accepting new patients. In fact, we need more primary care physicians in the Keys because practices are already overtaxed with too many patients.”

Dr. Atilla said that with today’s changing healthcare landscape, the Lower Keys Medical Center is challenged with meeting not only healthcare needs of its patients, but also the financial shortages. He said 40 percent of LKMC ER patients that do not have health insurance, resulting in $2 million in unfunded care.

“Everyone — patient, to doctor, to the hospital — is caught in the tug of war of the overall health care system,” said Dr. Atilla. “But the Lower Keys Medical Center is providing dedicated care to our community.”

Dr. Atilla told the Keys Weekly that he wanted to express his views, not necessarily for closure, but for clarity — and hopefully to allow for future discussions that include “transparency and fairness.”

The Keys Weekly will continue to monitor this story and welcomes any comments or questions at sent to Editor Sara Matthis at [email protected]

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