The Central Peninsula Hospital is investing a lot of money in order to develop its spine program, said Chief Executive Officer Rick Davis.
“We want to become a destination for people in the rest of the state to come here for their spine surgeries,” Davis said.
The spine program experienced a successful year, and the hospital aims to expand the program’s services in 2013 and beyond. Dr. Craig Humphreys, an orthopedic spine surgeon with 15 years of clinical experience, returned to his home state to start the program. Humphreys is attempting to develop a research foundation to improve spine care in the state and internationally.
The spine program began in July 2011. Humphreys’s practice mostly is comprised of patients suffering from degenerative spinal disorders, ranging from simple micro discectomy — a surgery in which a small portion of bone above the nerve root is removed to relieve pain and allow the nerve to heal — to more complex issues, said CPH spine coordinator Craig Wilcox in an email.
About 240 spine surgeries were completed in 2012, Wilcox said. Humphreys said he is conservative in his approach and exhausts all options before surgery. He specializes in minimally invasive approaches as well.
“None of us actually want to have spine surgery,” Humphreys said. “I don’t like to go to the dentist, honestly. Surgery has built in risks. I think we do well, because we wait ... we operate on people with severe back pain, and for the most part they do well afterward.”
According to the hospital, it earns between $12 million to $15 million per year in net revenue related to its spine program. This figure represents all ancillary services related to the program, which impact nearly all areas of the hospital.
The total net patient revenue at the hospital for fiscal year 2013 was $63.3 million, according to the hospital board’s quarterly report.
“By developing a spine program at Central Peninsula Hospital we have been able to provide local care to over 300 members of our community who would have otherwise had to continue to suffer or leave the area to seek relief,” Davis said. “And in doing so we have allowed several million dollars to be kept here ... rather than having those dollars move to Anchorage or the Lower 48.”
Humphreys returned to Alaska after a successful career in Chicago. He worked with a large group of spine surgeons at a Chicago practice, which helped him develop as a surgeon as well as management skills. He felt comfortable coming to a location that was starting a practice from the ground up, he said.
The spine program will eventually move into a new, larger medical office building. The expanded spine center will put an emphasis on non-surgical treatment options for residents suffering from neck and back pain — it will offer physical and injection therapy.
Humphreys’ vision for the program reaches beyond the move to the new building. It includes a research foundation hopefully focusing on total joint replacement of the spine in the lower back, he said. The research would happen in Alaska and elsewhere. He also wants to establish a non-profit that will aid Alaskans around the state.
He recently returned from a trip to Kenya; Wilcox, who spent time overseas as a Mormon missionary, helped organize the trip. Humphreys conducted a number of surgeries on patients in need.
The idea is to mirror those efforts in Alaska. He wants to establish connections for Alaska Natives, so if they fly out of the Bush they can come to one location.
“We’re trying to identify the issues now,” Humphreys said. “We want to remove the intimidation of having to drive around Anchorage. Hopefully, we can set up a transportation system; they’ll get better treatment, they’ll hopefully feel like they’re treated with more respect.”
If the hospital fails to offer the best services, it will lose Alaskans to Outside practices, he said, and the hospital appears to be onboard.
“I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to put our treatment (at CPH) up against anybody else,” he said.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.