OakLeaf Surgery Center becomes specialty hospital

By Jennifer Schmidt Eau Claire Leader-Telegram staff December 30, 2001

Plush facility doesn't handle all procedures

Another hospital has opened its doors in Eau Claire. Oak Leaf Surgical Hospital, formerly HealthSouth Oak Leaf Surgery Center, 3802 Oakwood Mall Drive, opened Nov. 26 as a specialty hospital that performs elective, scheduled surgery.

Officials are projecting that the organization will perform about 5,200 outpatient and inpatient surgeries per year. Of those, roughly 900 will be inpatient surgeries, which Oak Leaf wasn't licensed to perform before becoming a surgical hospital, said Scott Anderson, Oak Leaf's executive director.

Until now, Oak Leaf doctors performed only outpatient procedures such as breast biopsies, knee scopes, cataract procedures, colonoscopies, tonsillectomies and mole removals, and could only keep patients for 23 hours at a time because of its ambulatory surgery facility license.

Now that it's licensed as a surgical hospital doctors have the ability to keep patients as long as they see fit.

In the process of going from a surgery center to a surgical hospital, Oak Leaf added 25,000 square feet onto its existing building, spending $2.34 million on the addition and a number of alterations. Among them are an operating suite, 13 hospital beds, a nursing station, a full commercial kitchen, equipment to accommodate new procedures, a "bistro" lounge area and about 30 full-time staff members.

Additionally, the facility is staffed by registered nurses and employs no nursing aides or licensed practical nurses. The hospital will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a surgery center it was open five days a week and only during regular business hours.

But just because the facility is called a hospital doesn't mean it offers everything a traditional hospital would, Anderson said. He emphasized that the facility specializes in elective surgeries and will not provide emergency, general medicine or obstetrical services.

In other words, doctors would not treat a patient who broke his or her leg in a car accident because that's considered an emergency case. But they would do a knee scope if that person needed it and it could be scheduled a day or two in advance.

What also sets the Oak Leaf facility apart from traditional hospitals is its residential atmosphere and deluxe amenities -- such as patient recovery rooms with flat-screen television sets and DVD players, elegant drapery, cherry cabinetry, plush robes and slippers for recovering patients and more -- a decision organizers made to make patients' stays as comfortable as possible.

Another perk is that staff provides patients' family members with pagers so they can go shopping or run errands while their relative is in surgery; they are paged when the procedure is complete.

"It's a very, very high-tech, safe environment, but at the same time we're trying to take the sterile, institutional feel out of the health care environment," Anderson said.

Since opening last month doctors have performed about 25 inpatient surgeries, including Marsha Mohnsen's hysterectomy on Dec. 3. Mohnsen, 43, of Chippewa Falls, said she preferred the smaller, low-key atmosphere to a larger, full-service hospital. The conveniences weren't bad either, she said. "I didn't see the (recovery) room until I woke up after surgery," said Mohnsen, the hospital's first inpatient surgery case. "I remember I looked around and thought I was in a hotel room."

She was particularly fond of her lemon peppered fish dinner and the plush robe and slippers. She also enjoyed watching a "Cleopatra" DVD with her daughter. Dr. Steven Immerman, Oak Leaf's chairman and chief executive officer, said the facility is not meant to be viewed as a full-service hospital, nor was its hospital designation made to compete with Luther or Sacred Heart hospitals.

"It's really an expansion of our outpatient surgery center. We're really just trying to enhance what we've already been doing," said Immerman, a general surgeon who expects to perform about 50 percent of his practice's surgeries at the new hospital.

His remaining surgeries, likely the more complicated procedures, will be performed at Sacred Heart Hospital, he said.

Kelly Buechler, Sacred Heart's development director, said the hospital is not taking a stand on the expansion of the Oak Leaf facility, saying only that the hospital has had a long-standing relationship with the Oak Leaf physicians and that it is focusing on its own developments.

Dr. William Rupp, Luther Midelfort's president and chief executive officer, said Oak Leaf's new hospital designation is one more indicator of the growth of health care services in Eau Claire. However, he said, it's important for the community to understand that Oak Leaf's hospital is different from Luther and Sacred Heart.

"Like Oak Leaf, we offer elective surgeries," Rupp said. "But Luther and Sacred Heart also must provide emergency and acute care services to residents -- regardless of their ability to pay -- as part of our responsibility to the community."

Anderson said Oak Leaf's hospital is able to offer its services at less expense than the other two hospitals, despite its luxurious amenities. That's mainly because its hospital does not offer the full spectrum of services that a general service hospital would.

The charge for a private room at Oak Leaf Surgical Hospital is $375. Private rooms are $385 at Sacred Heart Hospital; $390 at Myrtle Werth Hospital in Menomonie; $405 at Luther Hospital; and $455 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Chippewa Falls.

Anderson added that the improvements were entirely funded by Oak Leaf physicians.

Schmidt can be reached at 830-5840, (800) 236-7077 or jennifer.schmidt@ecpc.com.