April 15, 2019
FOCUS: Health Care

Physician recruitment, surgery uptick spur MidState Medical Center's growth

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
MidState Medical Center in Meriden.
Gary Havican, President, MidState Medical Center

Dr. Camelia Lawrence said she decided to join MidState Medical Center last year as its director of breast surgery because she was drawn by the opportunity to work in a physician-led organization and alongside top industry specialists.

"It also represents an opportunity to work in a state-of-the art breast center," said Lawrence, referring to the hospital's recently opened 2,064-square-foot Breast Care Center in Meriden, which she leads.

Lawrence, who previously practiced at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, isn't the only doctor to join Meriden-based MidState Medical Center's ranks in recent years.

Since 2017, the 156-bed hospital, which recorded $271 million in operating revenue last fiscal year, has added 64 new surgeons, a significant tally for a smaller hospital at a time when competition for talent in the healthcare industry remains intense.

MidState Medical Center, which is owned by Hartford HealthCare, now has 99 surgeons on staff as it continues to expand its service lines and experiences a significant spike in patient surgeries.

It opened an orthopedic center in 2017 followed by an expansion of its breast cancer, vascular and general surgical units. It also recently revealed a $26.2 million plan to expand its operating rooms.

Gary Havican, president of MidState Medical Center, said surgeons have been attracted to the hospital's physician-led model, in which doctors with complementary skillsets work together with the hope of providing more coordinated patient care, while also improving professional satisfaction.

It's a model that has been hyped lately as hospitals and other care providers aim to improve patient care and lower costs.

The recruitment strategy, Havican added, is also part of an overall effort to increase the hospital's presence in communities it serves. For example, Lawrence, while leading breast surgery, also sees patients at her local practice in Plainville.

"We align with surgeons locally," Havican said. "The doctors develop programs based on the patients' disease."

Reaching capacity

Demand for surgery is rising statewide, due to multiple factors, including the aging of the overall population, according to Fiona Phelan, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association. MidState has been a clear example of that trend as surgical volume increased by 374 cases in fiscal 2018.

"Recruiting physicians for emerging areas of need identified by a hospital is a patient-focused response to today's rapidly changing healthcare landscape," Phelan said.

MidState Medical Center disclosed its surgical recruiting campaign in a recent application to the state Office of Health Strategy, where it also outlined plans to invest $26.2 million in three new operating rooms (it has 11 right now).

It also plans a major renovation of its main operating-room corridor in Meriden, including increasing the size of existing rooms.

MidState's recruitment strategy was deployed in 2017 when it added 37 surgeons, which then sparked discussions about growing its various service lines.

Since then, 27 additional surgeons have joined the staff, many of them from outside the market, the hospital said in its Office of Health Strategy application.

As it's added to its ranks, the number of surgeries MidState has performed has increased rapidly; so has its operating revenues.

For example, in fiscal 2018, its operating-room use — meaning the number of minutes surgeons spent performing procedures — jumped 19.7 percent, while its operating revenue spiked 27 percent.

Much of the growth has come from orthopedic care. Other practices with new surgeons include urology, thoracic and vascular.

"We had some disruption," Havican said. "The volume uptick came quickly. We've been able to work as a team. But everyone has shared some sacrifices along the way."

The most pressing issue for MidState is the growing strain on its operating-room capacity, which is why it wants to expand further.

The optimum use for most operating-room departments is 75 percent, according to industry benchmarks, and if it goes above that level it may not leave adequate capacity for emergency procedures.

MidState reached that 75-percent mark in November, it said, but expects to hit 84 percent by the end of fiscal year 2019, which will cause delays and operational inefficiencies.

"The quality of health care in the region will be improved for patients by adding surgical capacity to the hospital and allowing for surgical care to be provided in the most efficient and effective manner," the hospital said in its project application. "Increasing the number of operating rooms at the hospital will alleviate capacity and scheduling issues, minimize delays for patients and overall provide an improved patient experience."

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