Hospital seeks to increase weight-loss surgeries

Published 7:44 am Friday, November 26, 2010

Staff Writer

Local patients seeking weight-loss, or bariatric, surgeries could have those procedures done closer to home under a plan being developed at Beaufort Regional Health System.
Performing gastric bypass and banding surgeries at BRHS would not only be more convenient and lead to better outcomes for patients, but it could bring additional revenue to the hospital, health-care workers and BRHS leaders have said.
To that end, the BRHS Board of Commissioners recently endorsed a letter of intent with Southern Surgical Associates of Greenville to schedule more gastric-banding surgeries in Washington with the goal of a certification for Beaufort County Medical Center in the more complicated gastric-bypass procedure.
“We are 100 percent committed to bringing in more banding surgeries,” said Hood Richardson, a member of the BRHS Board of Commissioners. Richardson also serves on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.
The move comes as a four-member committee of the BRHS board is negotiating with four suitors over the future of health care in Beaufort County.
In gastric-banding surgeries, an adjustable silicone ring is placed around the upper part of the stomach. This creates a new, smaller stomach pouch that holds only a small amount of food. The device makes patients feel fuller sooner.
In the more complicated gastric-bypass procedure, surgeons create a small pouch by stapling shut and closing off a portion of the stomach. Patients feel full more quickly than when their stomach was its original size. The surgery also prevents the absorption of calories by bypassing a portion of the small intestine. It is one of the most frequently performed weight-loss surgeries in the United States.
Gastric-banding surgeries are performed at BRHS.
About 80 gastric-bypass surgeries were performed by doctors with Southern Surgical Associates in other hospitals from January to July on patients in the local hospital’s service area. These could have been performed in Washington if the hospital were equipped and staffed to perform them, according to Laura B. Smith, marketing director for Southern Surgical Associates.
Patients for both procedures typically require extensive pre-operative testing and post-operative care and counseling, she said.
“The bariatric patients is your patient for three years or more,” Smith said. “This clientele is one you stay with every step of the way.”
Studies have show that the more convenient tests and counseling are, the better the patient outcomes, she said.
“These patients typically are more successful, the closer to home the surgery is performed,” Smith said. 
Smith and Carla Jennette, Southern Surgical Associates’ practice administrator, recently met with the BRHS Finance Committee and Board of Commissioners to talk about a plan to bring more surgeries to Washington.
They estimated that 80 surgeries could have brought at least $1 million in revenue to BRHS if they had been performed in Washington.
But health officials caution that BRHS would have to make a significant financial investment in personnel and equipment before it would qualify to host the more difficult bariatric surgeries.
In order to qualify for certification as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence, hospitals must have performed a minimum of 125 bariatric surgical cases in the preceding 12 months. BRHS doesn’t perform that number of surgeries, hospital officials have said.
“We would have to start moving the volume of patients over to Washington to make that a possibility,” said Smith.
Other requirements include a designated medical director who is a bariatric surgeon to oversee hospital operations related to those surgeries, consultant services related to the care of bariatric patients within 30 minutes of request and a full line of equipment for the care of patients who undergo bariatric surgery, among other requirements.
Richardson said he hopes to have a letter of intent signed by Dec. 15 in an effort to bring more bariatric surgical patients to BRHS.