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St. Luke’s emergency room pact terminated

St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford terminated the group that has provided its emergency room care for 12 years and is negotiating with physicians from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to take over the contract, according to people briefed on the talks.

St. Luke’s owner, Southcoast Hospitals Group, and the St. Luke’s Emergency Associates jointly agreed to end the contract on Jan. 16, the hospital said in a statement last week.

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That decision followed three months of heated dispute, creating turmoil for 58 doctors, nurse practitioners, and other staffers. The two sides had sued one another, with emergency room staffers contending the hospital improperly sought an early end to a contract that should have lasted through 2013.

A Superior Court judge in Boston ruled in favor of the St. Luke’s emergency room group, known as SLEA. But hospital executives continued to move forward, concerned about poor satisfaction reports from patients who had experienced long waits at the emergency room, according to reports by The Standard-Times of New Bedford.

Southcoast has been in talks with Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel to assume the emergency room contract, according to court documents and people involved in the case, who were not authorized to speak publicly because the hospital has not announced a deal.

Neither St. Luke’s nor Beth Israel would confirm the talks.

St. Luke’s has indicated that it hopes to keep the current doctors and staff working at the emergency room under the new contractor. It is common practice for hospitals to contract out emergency room services.

“Both SLEA and Southcoast will work cooperatively on a seamless transition to provide the community with the highest level of care,’’ the hospital and medical group said in a joint statement.

More than 80,000 patients are treated annually at St. Luke’s emergency department.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.
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