Health Care

A Jubilant Southwoods Celebrates 20 Years

BOARDMAN, Ohio — Every morning a constant flow of people enter and leave the lobby of The Surgical Hospital at Southwoods. Drivers pull up to the roundabout just outside the front door, either dropping off family members or picking them up.

Inside, patients and nurses crisscross the room every few minutes. Family members wait on a patio, chatting and eating lunch as surgeries are performed on loved ones in one of the many operating rooms.

The bustle inside the hospital is a far cry from the day its doors first opened in June 1996. That year, all of 1,250 patients walked through the doors and out again.

There were no overnight stays, no rehabilitation. Those didn’t come until 2009 when Southwoods became licensed as an acute care hospital.

Co-founder and CEO Ed Muransky’s initial goal for the surgery center was to have physicians perform between 4,000 and 5,000 procedures annually.

Last year, according to chief operating officer Steve Davenport, the Southwoods system – which includes the surgical hospital, three imaging centers and two sleep centers – saw more than 150,000 patients. And Davenport says a payer source has told him that the hospital performs 60% of the outpatient surgeries in the area.

Rather than expand to offer as many hospital services as possible once the surgery center obtained its new acute-care classification in 2009, the decision was made to focus solely on surgery.

“We grew from surgery center to surgical hospital in name only,” Muransky says, explaining that the hospital’s mission didn’t change with the new license. “Tomorrow, if we wanted to put in an emergency room, we could. But [surgery] is what we know.”

The growth in the number of patients and the expansion of services feed into each other, he says.As more patients come through the doors, Muransky and the hospital management look at what services can be added, which draw more patients.

“We know surgery. We do a lot of it. It’s a natural progression with families and patients asking, ‘Why don’t you do total needs? We’d really like to stay at your place,’ ” Muransky says.

Those discussions are what led to the creation of the imaging and sleep centers. Despite not being a full-service hospital, notes chief nursing officer Angela Kerns, Southwoods still offers a continuum of care, albeit on a smaller scale.

“Even within big organizations, there are specializations,” she says. “We strive to be the best at surgical care. It’s why we opened the imaging center. You can’t know that you have to have surgery until you have a diagnosis. It’s all part of the continuum.”

This year, a $4-million robotic-assisted surgery program will be added, along with a new operating room and MRI-guided prostate biopsy system for the urology department.

Outside the hospital, a 90,000-square-foot building will be renovated, giving the orthopedic, spinal care and pain management programs more space to work. Construction is expected to begin this month, with the first patients admitted by autumn.

“We’ve done a great job in serving those things, but space has been a challenge,” Davenport says. “We bought the building to the south of us that will give us the opportunity to [expand]. Every opportunity that’s out there, we continue to look at.”

Since Muransky and fellow co-founder Dr. Louis Lyras first discussed the idea of a medical center dedicated solely to surgery, the raison d’etre of Southwoods has been offering efficient care, both for patients and medical staff.

In the early 2000s, Davenport says, the hospital’s hiring process focused on “marketing to physicians and trying to understand what was important to them.”

It wasn’t just asking, “How good of a surgeon are you?” It was talking to them to learn what they wanted for their families and how the hospital could be operated to make their jobs easier.

Every Wednesday, hospital management meets to elicit ideas and observations about improving day-to-day operations, Kerns says.

After those meetings, the ideas are discussed among the departments, giving everyone an opportunity to react.

“When someone has an idea, we work together to see if it’s something we can bring to fruition,” she explains. “We have good communication and make sure that everyone’s involved in the discussion. It creates a buy-in and acceptance to change.”

Adds co-founder and chairman of surgery Lyras, “When you work with Ed, your imagination just keeps going. … Not everything we think of can be a reality, but if it can be accomplished, he can do it.”

And, in turn, looking to make the hospital more efficient has benefited the patients.

“You have people who are used to taking care of patients like you,” explains medical director Dr. Thomas Gemma. “They don’t take care of someone with pneumonia and someone who had a total joint replacement. The nursing staff is more focused on the post-operative and pre-operative needs.”

Studies over the years have shown the benefits of making sure patients are comfortable as they heal, Muransky says. Improving that experience has always been part of Southwoods’ mission.

“Every day you either get better or you get worse. And I challenge my people to ask what we can be doing better,” Muransky says. “If you start with that premise, not the financial premise, most of the time the financial side will work out.”

As a testament to those efforts in patient comfort and efficiency, a trophy case sits in the waiting room of The Surgical Hospital at Southwoods, which patients walk by just before they’re admitted. Among them are a Five Star Excellence rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, The Joint Commission’s Top Performer on Key Quality Measures award, five consecutive Women’s Choice Awards and the Press Ganey Guardian of Excellence Award, presented to hospitals in the 95th percentile for patient satisfaction.

Among Southwoods’ newest step in improving patient care is collaboration with Mercy Health’s Partners for Urology Health center in Austintown. It was Southwoods’ first joint venture, Muransky says, and one that sets a good precedent.

“When they all come together, there’s one waiting room, one receptionist and that allows the doctor to be more efficient,” he says. “If we feel it’s better for Youngstown to do things together, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Along with providing medical care, Muransky wants Southwoods to be invovled in community service. He points to the classes of nursing students who graduate from Youngstown State University.

“Health care jobs are in demand,” he says, noting that a vast majority of graduates in that field will stay in the area. “We can feed the university, helping them to grow, and the more kids who get into those programs, the more the health professions can grow.”

As Southwoods celebrates its 20th anniversary, both Muransky and Davenport – who joined the hospital in the late 1990s after earlier getting the hospital’s certificate of need to open – say they never foresaw the growth that the surgical hospital has enjoyed. Regardless, they say, there’s still work to be done and services to perform.

“We had no idea,” Davenport says. “What we knew was that if we continued to challenge ourselves and reach for more programs, physicians and services, we’d continue to grow. And here we are 20 years later still wondering what we want to be when we grow up.”

Pictured: Ed Muransky, Louis Lyras and Steve Davenport have overseen Southwoods’ expansion.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.