ST. CLOUD — Leadership at St. Cloud Orthopedics, a longstanding specialty care provider in the area, say the region's largest health care system is trying to strongarm them out of business by ending a decades-long partnership of providing orthopedic trauma care at St. Cloud Hospital.

CentraCare leaders in the fall told St. Cloud Orthopedics that its doctors would no longer be on call for trauma care in the hospital's emergency department come January. That has significantly reduced the number of patients seeking follow-up care with St. Cloud Orthopedics.

"We have no formal relationship with CentraCare — other than that we've provided service for St. Cloud Hospital and the community at large for 60-some years," said Dr. Kim Schaap, orthopedic surgeon and president of St. Cloud Orthopedics. "We sat at the table with them for years trying to develop some sort of partnership. And then they walked away."

Four years ago, CentraCare announced a new orthopedics partnership with University of Minnesota Physicians, a practice affiliated with the University of Minnesota Medical School. But St. Cloud Orthopedics remained on the on-call schedule for orthopedic trauma patients until early 2023.

The decision to remove St. Cloud Orthopedics from the on-call schedule was made without input from the hospital or community, Schaap said.

Patients who were treated in the emergency room by St. Cloud Orthopedics often chose to continue rehabilitation and other follow-up care with the private practice, which has about 200 employees and two locations in the St. Cloud area. Since it has lost hospital trauma patients though, the practice lost two of its specialists — one recruited doctor who decided not to come and a longtime trauma surgeon who left the area.

Schaap said patients can still ask to be treated by a St. Cloud Orthopedics doctor, but because the group is down two trauma surgeons, the practice might not have a specialist available for certain injuries.

A CentraCare spokesperson said the organization is grateful to St. Cloud Orthopedics for collaborating to provide high quality care for decades, and that it will continue to honor patient choice when it comes to providers.

"As we evolve to a regional destination for orthopedics with cutting-edge care options only available through an academic medical center, CentraCare has partnered with the University of Minnesota Physicians to bring expert specialists to central Minnesota," the spokesperson said.

Earlier this year, CentraCare and the U announced plans to launch a medical school campus in St. Cloud. The school will have a focus on rural health and is expected to open in 2025. In addition to the medical school, plans call for expanded residency training and clinical partnerships.

Leaders at St. Cloud Orthopedics are working to recapture some patients by providing walk-in clinics that treat bone and joint injuries that don't require an emergency room or a referral from a primary care doctor.

Getting the word out has been difficult, Schaap said, because most of the primary care doctors in the St. Cloud area work for CentraCare and the "intentional exclusion" of St. Cloud Orthopedics from the trauma department is "further monopolizing CentraCare's control of patient referrals and care."