New Feather River Hospital gastroenterologist comes with a lot of expertise
The roads between Butte County and the Bay Area may not seem like a commuter’s dream, but considering all the miles Dr. Howard Hack has logged to teach at Stanford University over the course of two decades, his new route is a breeze.
Hack, the new gastroenterologist in Paradise, has been flying from Wisconsin to California off and on for 20 years. That’s a lot of frequent-flyer miles for a labor of love. So, when he got the chance to practice in the North State—in a community where the hospital is building an outpatient surgery center with rooms dedicated to GI—he jumped at the chance to shelve his jet-setting lifestyle.
In April, Hack joined the private practice of Dr. Donald Mansell and Dr. Damian Pestana, and he’s been performing GI procedures at Feather River Hospital. He, his wife and three children are already settling into their new surroundings.
“This is an excellent opportunity from just a variety of different standpoints: from a personal standpoint, from a practice standpoint, [and] working with the hospital here,” Hack said. “I’ve got two outstanding medical partners, and this is a close enough proximity to Stanford that it allows me to continue teaching, more easily.”
Education is important to Hack. He went to college in the Ivy League, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, then got his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He did his internship at the Cleveland Clinic and returned to Washington University for his internal-medicine residency before heading to Stanford for his GI training.
He considered a full-time career in academia before finding the perfect balance between caring for patients and training future physicians. He’s mostly taught at Stanford but also volunteered on the faculties of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and the Indiana Medical School campus at Purdue while living in Lafayette, Ind.
Now that he’s based in California, he plans to teach at Stanford once or twice a month.
Hack’s teaching is two-fold: He lectures medical students on specific topics, and he also makes rounds in the hospital with postgraduate fellows to give hands-on, experiential training.
“You get a sense of accomplishment because you’re helping patients directly and you’re helping fix the world because you’re creating better doctors,” he said. “And there’s the feedback you get from the fellows and your colleagues in learning different approaches. I always walk away with something new.
“Yes, you give something, but it’s definitely a two-way street working with such bright, energetic, sharing people.”
His Stanford colleagues also help his private practice, since he can pick up the phone and reach one of a variety of world-class specialists if he has a concern about one of his patients.
“He’s brought a whole other dimension to what we can offer,” said Debby Adema, Feather River Hospital’s supervisor of same-day services and the GI lab.
Along with performing what he calls “the full gamut of work” at a general GI practice, Hack says he’s developed a niche: identifying and removing “flat polyps.” These growths, as their name suggests, can be hard to detect. He developed that expertise at Stanford.
Hack also has brought to Paradise a personal demeanor that’s made an impression on Adema and others.
“He’s such a pleasant person,” said Randy Cardwell, director of surgical services at Feather River. “He frequently is one who compliments staff, saying it’s a privilege to work with such a great team, and he’s open to sharing that with them while he’s working with them, which is greatly appreciated.”
Hack appreciates being part of a team. In Milwaukee, he was part of a multi-specialty group where, for the most part, doctors worked independently. “Being in a smaller-knit group like I am now is much better from a professional standpoint,” he said.
Another “very important part” of Hack’s decision to come to Paradise was the construction of Feather River’s outpatient surgery center.
“You have to have the facilities to take care of patients, and outpatient facilities are more efficient,” Hack said. “From a cost standpoint and a time standpoint, you can take care of people effectively at an endoscopy center, so I thought that was great.”
Cardwell said the facility is on track for completion in mid-November. The GI doctors will be the first to practice there, and other physicians will phase in later.
The 13,000-square-foot complex is located on Peach Lane, adjacent to Feather River’s Sleep Medicine Center. When open, it will have four procedure rooms—two dedicated to GI—with 18 bed spaces and two physicians’ offices.
“It’s state of the art, and it’s going to be beautiful,” Adema said. “It’s got nice patient flow from entry door to exit door, and we’re really proud of the decisions we’ve made for the equipment.”
The two GI suites feature especially flexible endoscopes, with most equipment mounted on ceiling booms to free up floor space. Feather River expects the GI physicians will be able to perform 500 procedures per month, up from the 350 per month they’ve done since Hack’s arrival.
“Some procedure rooms aren’t configured the way you want them to be,” Hack said. “This way we’ll start fresh and have everything right from the start.”