Finishing the fourth

CPH gets approval for new operating room to meet growth
Registered nurse Lori Karvonen, left, and surgical technician Dan Cronk stand Wednesday inside operating room one inside Central Peninsula Hospital. The hospital, which currently has three operating rooms, will be finishing the inside of a fourth to meet demand and accommodate a growing staff.

Central Peninsula Hospital CEO Ryan Smith contends hospitals are one of the few segments of the economy that has grown steadily and will continue to do so.

His hospital is no different, he contends.

Since 2007, CPH has continued to grow in both capacity for service, patients served and number of staff. The continued demand for a diverse range of medical treatment on the Peninsula has led hospital officials to give the thumbs up to a project essential for allowing that growth to continue.

On Tuesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly unanimously approved Ordinance 2011-19-01, setting in motion the appropriation of $1.067 million for the hospital to finish a fourth operating room.

Funding for the project will come from CPH’s plant replacement and expansion fund, a sum of money collected from operational profits.

The shell of the fourth operating room is currently built, but is waiting to be finished and filled with the necessary supplies. Smith said the extra surgical space will not only help meet added patient demands, but will also provide a bit more elbow room for recently recruited surgeons.

The space was left over from a 2007 expansion project, Smith said.

Before that expansion, the hospital had two operating rooms and a procedure room. Currently, CPH is equipped with three operating rooms, a procedure room and a C-section room.

“So we almost doubled our surgical capacity,” Smith said. “But, what has happened since then, is we have continued to recruit surgical specialists here. The facility here has given us the ability to do that.”

Recruiting the specialists was a sure way to grow volumes in the hospital’s operating rooms, Smith said.

In a “flurry” of recruitment, CPH hired a general surgeon, an OB/GYN physician and an orthopedic spine surgeon, who have all started their practice, Smith said.

“So we have seen a continued increase in the number of cases that we have been doing in the ORs to the point where we feel like we need to expand into the space that was made available through the expansion, which is a fourth operating room,” he said.

Although the price tag is somewhat steep, Smith said the hospital is hoping the specialists and fourth room will keep more patients and surgical procedures from landing in Anchorage or outside.

“Unfortunately everything in a hospital costs $1 million,” he said with a laugh. “Even though you have got the shelled space, it still costs a $1 million because they are isolation rooms … It’s the most expensive construction work that you can do in a hospital is in an operating room.”

Smith said it’s a rule of thumb that when utilization of the hospital’s operating rooms reaches 65 to 75 percent, it’s time to start thinking about opening a new room. The fourth operating room should last for the time being, or until the hospital decides to recruit more physicians or patient demand rises past that threshold.

Hospital officials, Smith contends, try to stay ahead of the demand and grow the hospital a step ahead of the community’s needs.

“In the last four or five years we’ve really grown into that capacity that was created,” he said. “We don’t want to grow just to grow — we want to grow in areas where we are actually providing valuable services that people are getting anyways but they are just getting them in a different location.”

The fourth operating room should be ready in nine months to a year. It represents one of the last projects identified in the 2007 strategic plan, which is currently in the process of being re-worked.

Gregg Motonaga, an anesthesiologist and chief of staff for CPH, said the surgical expansion and overall growth of the hospital make for an exciting time in the Peninsula health care industry.

“Growth for us is good,” he said.

However, there might be a bit of stress on surgical and supporting staff to adjust to the opening of the new operating room, he said.

“If there is any stress, it is probably how we are going to match the demands of whether they need to hire new people, or how the staffing model changes,” Motonaga said. “That’s true for me. I manage a team of five anesthesia providers and by adding a new room, that’s going to create a new dynamic of how we staff it. So it is going to be stress for me to figure out how to staff it, how they are going to utilize it and only then can I figure out how to do it. But that’s just the nature of the beast. That’s just what you have to do in a changing environment.”

But, Motonaga remained optimistic about that changing environment.

“I don’t think anyone figured Soldotna would have a hospital like this 20 years ago,” he said.


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