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New outpatient surgery center aimed at easing patient experience

Barbara Wells donned her fanciest scrubs last week — a cute flowered bandana and matching green top — for the grand opening of a new outpatient surgery center on the campus of MedWest-Haywood.

Whether it’s a mammogram, cataract surgery, hip replacement or dreaded colonoscopy, patients in Haywood County will no longer have to schlep through the hospital for simple same-day procedures.

“It is an easier in-and-out. It’s less intimidating for some people than the hospital atmosphere,” said Wells, a scrub nurse who was on hand to give mini-tours of the shiny new operating rooms to the curious public last week.

During surgeries, Wells serves as the doctor’s right-hand, and even his left if the occasion calls for it. During the next two weeks, surgery teams will do dry runs and role-playing exercises, taking a “real” patient from the front door, through admissions and surgery prep, to recovery and discharge.

Thanks to the new standalone outpatient center, patients will no longer follow a convoluted trek to different floors and wings of the hospital during the course of same-day procedures, said Dr. Chris Catterson, an orthopedist and one of the physician investors in the building.

“Patients would check in on the first floor, they would go up to the sixth floor to pre-op, then back down to the first floor for their surgery, then back up to the sixth floor to recovery, then head to the second floor for discharge,” Catterson said. “The experience for the patient can be as important as the care.”

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Of course, Catterson won’t get nearly as much exercise in the new facility.

“In between cases, I was going up and down and up and down between the floors checking on patients in recovery and seeing family,” he said. “Going through that rigmarole took more time for physicians, and it took longer for patients to get through the system.”

The new outpatient surgery center will also house lab service, rehab, women’s imaging and other services previously housed only in the main hospital.

The $9.3-million project was financed with equity put up by 20 doctors in the community, each of who invested capital in exchange for a real estate interest in the project. Meadows and Ohly, a development company out of Charlotte that specializes in medical offices and outpatient centers, built it.

An outpatient surgery center in Haywood has been in the works for more than a decade. It has evolved, however, from a solely hospital-driven project designed as a wing of the hospital itself to a stand-alone, physician-backed building.

The hospital is still heavily involved. It will lease the space, outfit it with equipment and manage its operation, but it didn’t pay for any of the construction costs. The business arrangement marries the hospital and physician community.

Among those prowling the halls during the open house last week were Howard and Leida Hull, who at 84 and 78 admit it’s likely a matter of time before one of them will end up here for something or another. They liked what they saw.

“This is really going to be terrific,” Howard said. “I think the excellence of this facility will counteract Mission trying to move in here.”

Countering competition from Mission Hospital in Asheville wasn’t exactly the stated goal. An outpatient surgery center has been a dream of the Haywood medical community for more than a decade — long before the stepped-up forays of late by Mission to capture patients in Haywood’s home turf.

“The plan is to enhance patient care here in Haywood County,” said Teresa Reynolds, chief operating officer of MedWest-Haywood.

But there’s no doubt countering Mission is a hoped for side effect. Mission two years ago beat Haywood to the punch and set-up its own outpatient center just down the road from MedWest-Haywood.

Billed as an “outpatient care center,” no surgeries are done there. Instead, a rotation of Asheville-based doctors hold office hours and see patients but perform actual procedures back in Asheville — making it more of a medical office park.

Mission does, however, perform imaging like mammograms at its Haywood site, and women looking for an easier in-and-out could have been lured by the convenience factor. Now Haywood’s outpatient center could lure them back.

Outpatient procedures can account for 50 percent of a hospital’s revenue. The procedures are more likely to be elective — and therefore paid for — as opposed to the costly charity cases from uninsured patients that drain a hospital’s bottom line.

While the surgery center was funded and built by private doctors and investors — not by the hospital — the hospital will still make revenue off procedures performed there. The hospital owns the equipment and employs the staff, and therefore handles the billing on everything except the physician’s own services.

The surgery center means other positives for the hospital beyond the obvious benefits to patients. It could also help with recruiting physicians.

“If I was looking for a job now and saw this, it would definitely be enticing to come to a facility like this to treat your patients,” Catterson said. “We have a lot of new toys, and physicians love new toys.”

Indeed, four of the seven new physicians joining the Haywood medical community in the near future will be working or performing procedures in the new building: a cardiologist, urologist, ophthalmologist and neurologist.


The facility

The new outpatient surgery center on the campus of MedWest-Haywood is three stories and 42,000 square feet. In addition to surgery suites, it will house several lines of patient services including diagnostic imaging, women’s imaging, lab testing and rehab. It will also house two private physician practices: Western Carolina Orthopaedic Specialists and Mountain Spine.

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