December 09, 2012 8:01 pm • By MAURY THOMPSON — firstname.lastname@example.org
WILTON — The volume of eye surgery procedures is expected to double over the next 10 years as the Baby Boom generation ages, said Dr. Amjad Hammad, a local ophthalmologist.
To meet the growing demand and keep on pace with new technology, Hammad and three other local opthhamologists have partnered with Glens Falls Hospital to develop a new eye surgery center in Wilton.
Construction crews began site work last week for the facility being built off Northway Exit 16, on land adjacent to The Medical Center at Wilton, a physician practice that Glens Falls Hospital operates.
Eye surgery procedures now performed at Glens Falls Hospital will be relocated to the new free-standing surgery center in Wilton, when it opens next year.
“We’re hoping for a soft opening early in summer of 2013,” Hammad said.
Many patients from Glens Falls and north of the city will have farther to travel for surgery.
But some patients who now travel to Latham or Albany for some procedures will have less distance to travel, because the new surgery center will have modern equipment to perform procedures that aren’t offered at Glens Falls Hospital now, said Hammad, who has his office in Saratoga Springs.
A transportation program will be arranged for patients who need it.
Patients will feel more relaxed in an out patient setting, instead of a hospital, which people tend to associate with serious illness, Hammad said.
“For the patient, it should be a much better experience,” he said.
Hammad has joined with Dr. David Westfall of Glens Falls and Drs. Mark Hite and Steven Solomon of Queensbury have formed North Country Eye Surgery Center, a company that owns 70 percent of the new venture, with the hospital owns 30 percent.
The hospital is spending $1.2 million, and will own the land and building.
North Country Eye Surgery is spending between $1.2 million and $1.3 million for equipment, and will provide staff and handle billing.
The center initially will employ eight or nine people, and eventually more, said Hammad, who is chief executive officer of North Country Eye Surgery.
The joint venture works just the opposite of a joint venture the hospital entered earlier this year with Adirondack Cardiology in Queensbury.
The hospital now handles billing and administration of government and insurance reports, and those who work at the specialty practice are hospital employees.
The arrangement with North Country Eye Surgery, in which the hospital owns the facility but the practice handles administration is unique for the hospital, but become more common in the future as there is more emphasis on outpatient care, said Jeff Treasure, the hospital’s vice president and chief financial officer.
The hospital, which is borrowing the $1.2 million for its investment, is partnering in the new eye surgery center at a time of financial uncertainty for the hospital, in general.
The hospital laid off 29 employees and reduced the hours of five others in recent week, as part of a plan to turn around financial losses.
The hospital lost nearly $1.8 million in the summer and early fall, and about $500,000 in October.
November financial numbers were not yet available on Friday, but the bottom line appears to be improving, Treasure said.
“We’re starting to see the indications of financial improvement,” he said.
Health centers which the hospital operates can be financially challenging, but the eye surgery center is expected to be profitable for the hospital, Treasure said.
That’s in part because it is a partnership, and also because eye surgery in general is more profitable that some other medical services, he said.
“It’s a service that is reimbursed well,” he said.
Relocating eye surgery to Wilton will free up two small operating rooms to expand other types of surgical services, perhaps into new procedures the hospital doesn’t offer now, he said.
The space will give hospital officials more flexibility as they determine whether to build a new surgical wing at the main hospital campus, said David Kruczlnicki, the hospital’s president and chief executive officer.
The eye surgery center fits with the hospital’s strategy of attracting more patients from south of Glens Falls.
Treasure the hospital is exploring other expansion opportunities in Saratoga County, but it is too soon to discuss them.
Hammad said they don’t view it as competition with other hospitals or medical practices, but as improving overall services.
“We’re not trying to compete with anybody. We’re hoping to have a facility with the latest equipment,” he said.