Ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) offer affordable, efficient outpatient surgeries
As administrator of Skyway Surgery Center in southeastern Chico, Laura Dahlin says, “I get to wear many hats.” Dahlin is more than just a business manager; she’s a surgical nurse who’s willing to do any job that helps maintain the flow at the fast-paced facility.
“I emptied laundry today,” she said on a recent afternoon, in a phone interview that came right on the heels of her interviewing a prospective employee.
Dahlin is busy because the place is busy. The surgeons at Skyway Surgery Center perform roughly 400 operations per month. Considering its office has four operating rooms and one procedure room, hustle and bustle are the norm.
Still, Skyway Surgery Center isn’t overbooked, or even booked to capacity. It has room—and time—for more patients, provided more patients know to come.
“What I hear over and over from patients is they had no idea we were here,” Dahlin said.
Yet here Skyway Surgery Center has been since 2004, when it opened at the corner of the Skyway and Raley Boulevard. It’s the brainchild of surgeons and anesthesiologists from Enloe Medical Center and Feather River Hospital in Paradise who wanted their own site for outpatient procedures—operations that do not require a hospital stay.
Like the Chico Surgery Center across town on East Avenue, Skyway Surgery Center is an ASC: an ambulatory surgery center. Pioneered in 1970 by anesthesiologists in Phoenix, Ariz., the ASC concept is geared toward minor surgeries, scheduled in advance, after which the patient can return home in hours, not days.
“We offer an alternative to hospital outpatient care,” Dahlin said. “We’re affordable, and we’re able to bring patients in and out fast. We’re not encumbered by emergencies; we don’t have to reschedule surgeries because a trauma case comes in. We don’t have sick patients, so our infection rate is very low.
“We have a boutique kind of atmosphere here that patients appreciate.”
Skyway Surgery Center has 19 “physician partners” with ownership stakes and 41 “non-partner physicians” who also perform procedures there. (Dahlin said two more are coming on board soon—an ophthalmologist and a pain-management specialist.)
Many of the names are familiar because they are leading physicians in Chico and Paradise, such as Leonard Brazil and Brock Cummings (orthopedics), Barry Johnson (pain management), Joseph and Richard Matthews (colorectal), Erik Simchuk and Deron Ludwig (bariatric), and Larry Wainschel (neurosurgery).
“Physicians like to work here, at a center that does one thing and does it well,” Dahlin said. “They work with the same [surgical] team every time. The turnover time between operations is 10 minutes [for an operating room, versus up to an hour in a hospital]. It’s very efficient for them when they come in here—they get a whole lot done.”
Yet, despite the rapid pace, Dahlin says Skyway Surgery Center maintains a patient satisfaction rate of 99 percent.
“We’re lucky to say we have a great team here,” Dahlin said, “many of whom have been here since the beginning.”
What can a patient of an ASC expect? From Skyway Surgery Center, at least, a phone call. A few days before the surgery, a nurse calls the patient to review the patient’s health history and make sure he or she doesn’t have any questions not answered by the printed information distributed when the surgical appointment was made.
On the day of the surgery, the patient arrives and registers at the ASC. “Pre-op”—the preparations before surgery—takes roughly an hour. The patient gets wheeled into the operating room, goes under anesthesia and has the operation. He or she wakes up in the recovery room and within approximately an hour is ready to head home.
“A lot of our patient satisfaction surveys comment that they can’t believe how fast it was,” Dahlin said. “Surgeries have become less invasive, and anesthesia techniques have improved dramatically.”
A nurse places a follow-up phone call the next day to see how the patient is recovering.
The list of surgeries performed is extensive. They include arthroscopic knee surgeries, shoulder surgeries, hand surgeries to repair carpal tunnel damage, tonsillectomies, hysterectomies, sinus surgeries and a range of gastrointestinal procedures.
“The majority of our patients are healthy because we don’t have all the services that a hospital has,” Dahlin explained. “We’re less expensive because we don’t have the overhead costs of running a 24-hour operation with an emergency room. We pre-screen our patients for suitability for our center.”
Skyway Surgery Center employs a staff of around 50, including registered nurses and surgery technicians. It dedicates one operating suite to GI procedures, three to other surgeries and one to more minor procedures.
“It’s important for people to know we’re held to the same high standards that hospitals are,” Dahlin said. “We’re accredited by Medicare and the AAAHC [Accrediting Association of Ambulatory Health Care]. We have the same physicians, respected in the community, that the hospital does, and we have a very experienced staff as well.”
Dr. Denis Westphal, a general and vascular surgeon who is one of the founding partners of Skyway Surgery Center, offered these words: “What makes it a good place for my patients and me? [It’s] efficient. Seldom do we have delays because of emergencies or add-on situations. The staff works very well together. It’s a modern, clean facility—patients find it comfortable. It costs less for insurers and patients than at a hospital. Data has shown a lower infection rate at ASCs. We’ve got very good, consistent anesthesia.
“My patients come back to the office and almost without exception are complimentary about their experience.”