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Local surgery center inspires legislation

Sen. Jeff Merkley likes to understand how things work and what challenges businesses and organizations face, so when he visited the Eye Health Eastside Surgery Center in Clackamas on Dec. 2, he wanted to chat with both staff and patients.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sen. Jeff Merkleys wife, Mary Sorteberg, a registered nurse at the Eye Health Center, interacts with a patient who just had surgery.He was especially interested in seeing how an ambulatory surgery center operates because, he said, “a lot of people rely on them, and it was good see the full-service medical, surgical and routine vision care they provide to children, adults and seniors.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Cherie Shevlin, ASC director at the Eye Health Eastside Surgery Center, takes Sen. Jeff Merkley on a tour of the Clackamas facility.The Clackamas facility is an ambulatory surgery center, or ASC, which means that after procedures the patients go directly home and do not stay overnight, said ASC Director Cherie Shevlin, a registered nurse. She has worked at the Eye Health Eastside Surgery Center in Clackamas for five-and-a-half years, and the facility itself was founded 10 years ago. Twelve doctors who work at the surgery center own the site with 20 staff members and 16 total doctors.

“We specialize in eye surgery here. This is all we do, and we do it well,” Shevlin said.

Merkley originally was scheduled to tour another ASC several months ago, but Shevlin said she pushed to change it to the Clackamas facility, where Merkley’s wife, Mary Sorteberg, is a registered nurse who works in pre- and post-op at the surgery center, and also functions as medication nurse for the operating room.  

Shevlin said, “We invited Sen. Merkley to visit because he was concerned about the fact that the facility is physician-owned, but we won him over.”

“It was incredible to see how efficient the ambulatory surgery center was and how many patients they can see in one day. It was also nice to visit with a few of the patients and hear about their experiences at the center,” Merkley said. “The Eye Health Eastside Surgery Center is a great resource for residents in Clackamas County who are looking to get comprehensive vision care.”

Merkley’s visit and his subsequent support for the Clackamas ASC is significant, Shevlin said, because he is a co-sponsor of a bill called the Quality and Access Act of 2013.

Currently there is a disparity in funding for eye surgeries: Medicare pays more for patients having surgery in a hospital, while paying less for patients receiving the same services in an ASC, Shevlin said.

The bill that Merkley is co-sponsoring will address that disparity, with the outcome of federal funding being the same for patients no matter where they are treated.

Results of a new study published in September at the University of California-Berkeley Nicholas C. Petris Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare found that ASCs provide billions of dollars in savings to the Medicare program and its beneficiaries, Shevlin said. The study concluded that ASCs have the potential to save the Medicare system an additional $57.6 billion over the next decade.

“It is safe, what we do here, and the quality is excellent,” Shevlin said, noting that she has been a registered nurse for 28 years; more than 15 of those years were spent managing specialty ASCs.

ASCs offer savings, benefits

The surgery center is in Clackamas, Shevlin said, because it is the midway point between East Portland and Oregon City, but the facility has more advantages than a convenient location just off of Sunnyside Road and near I-205.

She said an ASC is noted for its significantly lower co-pays, efficiency and high patient-satisfaction ratings. Open Monday through Thursday and this year saw 4,500 cases, the Clackamas center has two operating rooms, a Lasik operating room and a laser-procedure room, along with five pre-op chairs and three post-op chairs.

“We have a patient-satisfaction rating of 98 percent because we are blessed with a wonderful, personable staff who interacts well with the patients,” Shevlin said. “Patients come directly to us and we give them a thorough assessment. They get their eye drops, an IV and anesthesia, and then we walk them into the operating room for the procedure, and we walk them out.”

The efficiency of the process keeps costs low, she said, adding that the facility never cuts corners on equipment and is stocked with state-of-the-art lasers and microscopes.

Range of services

Cataract surgeries make up the bulk of the operations done at the facility, followed by cornea, eyelid and glaucoma procedures.

“We recently purchased a new laser called the Select Laser Trabeculoplasty, which gives glaucoma patients an option to having to take medication for life. It opens up the mesh work in the eye, giving good fluid drainage, and patients are thrilled to have it,” Shevlin said.

The center also offers a five-minute laser procedure for cloudy vision after cataract surgery, and Lasik refractive corrective surgery on younger patients, who then will not have to wear glasses or contacts.

Doctors and nurses at the surgery center also offer free care to patients from the Lions Club Sight and Hearing Foundation, Shevlin said, adding that Alcon, the facility’s main supply vendor, reimburses the surgery center for supplies for these patients. Emerald Anesthesia also provides free services.

Some of the doctors and nurses at the ASC also do mission trips to other countries, providing free eye care.

“Good people gravitate to this kind of clinical setting. It is a good work environment. We love taking care of our patients. They come in with cataracts, and when they go into post-op they say ‘I can see!’ We take satisfaction that we helped them,” Shevlin said.

The Eye Health Eastside Surgery Center is at 12050 S.E. Stevens Road, Suite 400, in Clackamas. For more information, call 971-206-6100 or visit ehnpc.com.