Surgery Center work under way

By Lynn Parks

A long-planned, for-profit surgical center is at last under construction in Herring Run Professional Park in Seaford. The Seaford Specialty Surgery Center will open with the blessing of Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, which originally filed suit in Delaware Superior Court to stop it. "This is not a bad thing for the community, so it's good for Nanticoke Health Services," said Nanticoke CEO Steve Rose. "If the community flourishes, so much the better for us." Medical Consulting Group, the Springfield, Mo.-based company which is developing and will manage the facility, got the go-ahead to build its center from the Delaware Health Resources Board in November 2007. When the hospital appealed that decision with the board, and then, when that appeal was turned down, filed suit in Superior Court, spokesman Tom Brown said that the additional operating rooms that the surgical center would provide to the community were not necessary. State law requires that outpatient surgical facilities demonstrate a need for their services. In addition, Nanticoke claimed that the surgical center would take patients away from the hospital, adding to financial difficulties the hospital was experiencing at the time. Then CEO Mark Rappaport said that the surgical center could mean a $1 million drop in income for Nanticoke Memorial Hospital. The Superior Court suit was decided in favor of the surgical center in December 2008. Shortly before that decision, Nanticoke formally dropped its opposition to the center. Negotiations to allow the hospital to join the center as a partner fell apart when requirements the hospital had because of its not-for-profit status could not be met, Rose said. But neither the surgical center nor the hospital is ruling out a partnership in the future. "We never close the door," said Rob McCarville with the Medical Consulting Group. "It would certainly behoove us to work together," added Rose. Rose admits that the center could mean a drop in hospital revenue. "When you create competition, there could be surgeons who are going to take business out of the hospital," he said. "But if in the long term you work with these surgeons, when they need to do inpatient surgeries they will come here. These are good surgeons, good doctors, and it is not healthy for us to create animosity with them." Rose said that there are some treatments that "can be done more effectively in a surgical center." And the Seaford center will allow residents of western Sussex County to get medical treatment close to home.

"If you keep more people in the community getting care in the community, that's good for everybody," he said. "This will create another option for outpatient surgical needs," said McCarville. "And I hope it will help decrease migration for services from Sussex County. A lot of people choose to go to other areas to get treatment that they need. They will have a low-cost alternative right here in Seaford." It is those lower costs that make a surgical center in Seaford especially attractive now, said McCarville. The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, an advocacy group for outpatient surgical centers, says that charges to Medicare for treatment at an outpatient surgical center are about 54 percent lower than charges to a hospital for the same treatment. A recent report by American Public Radio put the figure at 59 percent. "This will be a low-cost alternative for patients, for insurance companies and for Medicare and Medicaid," McCarville said. "They will all be able to spend less money." At the same time, the quality of treatment will be "as good or better" than that that is received in a hospital, he said. A report done in 2007 for the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association found that "the quality of care delivered in [outpatient surgical centers] is equal to or better than comparable hospital care." Partners in the surgery center are Ganesh Balu, a doctor with Pain Management and Rehabilitation with offices in Dover, Middletown, Seaford and Lewes, and surgeon Francisco Rodriguez, obstetrician and gynecologist James Rupp, Claude DiMarco, an ear, nose and throat doctor, and podiatrist Bradley Lemon, all with offices in Seaford. Physicians in addition to those five will have the option of using the center. "We will definitely welcome additional physicians, as many as are interested," McCarville said. Doctors who operate there will continue to be credentialed through hospitals and will provide services there that cannot be done at the outpatient center. The 6,400-square foot facility will have two operating rooms and a third room in which minor procedures can be done. McCarville said that initially, it will employ eight people, with the potential to eventually employ up to 15. The center is being located in an already-existing building in the professional park. Work on the building will be completed in about six months, McCarville said. He expects that the center will open in the fall.

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