Patients up in arms after doctor’s contract not renewed

ALPINE — Milton “Mitch” Smith, who says he’s tired of doctor turnover at the Big Bend Regional Medical Center, started a petition calling out the hospital for “precipitously” terminating its contract with a doctor.

ALPINE — Milton “Mitch” Smith credits Dr. John Ray with accurately diagnosing his wife with a debilitating condition. And so Smith was displeased to learned earlier this month that Ray was no longer working at Big Bend Regional Medical Center, where Smith and his wife have been patients since around 2010.

Smith, who says he’s tired of doctor turnover at the medical center, started a petition among Ray’s former patients calling out the BBRMC for “precipitously” terminating its contract with Ray. At last count, on Tuesday, 14 people had signed it, according to Smith.

“We have suffered a major disruption in our care,” the petition reads. “We believe this was done needlessly without warning and shows a grievous lack of empathy for patients on the part of BBRMC administrative staff.”

“There seems to be a prevalent belief among BBRM administrative staff that Family Practitioners are interchangeable,” it continues. “From a patient’s perspective, that is certainly not the case.”

Smith first learned Ray was gone while trying to resolve a prescription issue last Monday. He heard Ray left over a “contract dispute” but said he was given no more information or a means of contacting Ray.

BBRMC initially said that Ray had chosen to leave. “That was his choice,” said Ruth Hucke, a spokeswoman for the medical center. But in an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel on Monday, Ray said the decision “wasn’t really voluntary” and “came as a big surprise.”

Ray said he’d asked questions about his new contract after his previous contract expired at the end of September. In particular, he said he wanted to know why ER calls would not be compensated despite being told they would be.

“It definitely wasn’t a dealbreaker,” he said of the ER pay. But instead of answering his questions, he said BBRMC didn’t offer him a contract.

In a later interview, Ray stressed that his departure was not about money. “They offered me a generous raise,” he said. “I was happy about it.”

When asked about Ray’s version of events, Hucke said that “could have been the case” but stressed he was “not fired.”

Ray still has admitting privileges at the hospital, and BBRMC will post Ray’s updated clinic information on its website, she said. Rick Flores, CEO of BBRMC, was unavailable to comment.

In a statement to patients, dated October 7, Regina Terrazas, manager at the clinic, acknowledged Ray was leaving.

“We are thankful for his service to our communities,” the statement read. “We wish him all the best and hope you will join us in doing so.”

In his Monday interview, Ray said he was touched by the petition. “I just appreciate everyone’s support, he said. “My intention is to stay in the Alpine area.”

He said he hoped to either start his own clinic or join an existing one. He apologized to patients for the service disruption before reiterating that his family has no plans to leave the area.

“This was not a stepping-stone or a get-your-loans-paid kind of job,” he said. “This is where we want to call home.”

In a follow-up call on Wednesday, Ray shared some important career updates. He’d “verbally committed” to working with Preventative Care Health Services (formerly Presidio County Health Services) and was waiting on the final paperwork, he said. (PCHS confirmed the news to The Big Bend Sentinel.) If he gets the job, he’ll be splitting time between clinics in Alpine, Presidio and Marfa.