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ACMC, Rice begin orthopedic venture: Latest effort to recruit and retain orthopedic surgeons has strong start

WILLMAR — A newly formed joint venture between Rice Memorial Hospital and Affiliated Community Medical Centers to strengthen local orthopedic surgery services is off to a strong start.

A locum tenens surgeon arrived at the beginning of March and is performing surgeries as well as filling some of the gaps in the on-call schedule, officials with Rice and ACMC said this week.

“He has a very wide repertoire of cases he can do. He has done several cases already,” said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital.

The Willmar Medical Services joint venture also is close to bringing in a second locum tenens orthopedic surgeon who is expected to arrive in June.

When that happens, there will be “the equivalent of an additional full-time orthopedic surgeon in the community,” Schramm said. “That’s going to be a good thing.”

The orthopedic surgery joint venture was created earlier this year to help stabilize and strengthen local care for orthopedic surgery services.

“It’s been an emphasis for us,” said Dr. Ronald Holmgren, president of ACMC. “We’ve been struggling to get increased orthopedic coverage for the last six to eight years.”

One of the challenges has been recruiting and retaining orthopedic surgeons, a specialty that is in short supply nationally. The local shortage of orthopedic surgeons also has affected on-call coverage, especially evenings and weekends. The situation worsened last fall with the departure of one of the two orthopedic surgeons at ACMC.

A second group, Heartland Orthopedic Specialists of Alexandria, operates an outreach clinic in Willmar five days a week and performs orthopedic surgery at Rice Hospital and the Willmar Surgery Center.

The surgeons have affiliate rather than active status on the Rice medical staff, however, and are not on the call schedule. Officials with Heartland have said they are working to bring in an orthopedic surgeon to staff their Willmar clinic full time.

Preserving local access to orthopedic care is a priority, not only for ACMC and Rice Hospital but also for patients, Holmgren said. “We want to keep the orthopedic cases locally. We certainly have heard from the community that they don’t want to travel for their orthopedic care.”

Early results from the new joint venture have officials at both organizations saying they feel optimistic about the success of this approach.

Once the second locum tenens is here, on-call coverage for orthopedic surgery will be available almost around the clock, Holmgren said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to offer that.”

Work is continuing on recruiting a permanent, full-time orthopedic surgeon, he said. The longer-term plan is to bring in mid-level professionals, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners specializing in orthopedic care, who can support and enhance the service.

As a next step, Rice and ACMC plan to ramp up their marketing with a message to the community that local orthopedic surgery services are here and available.

“That’s going to be important as well,” Schramm said. “We’re going to really focus on what we’re providing and what our physicians are providing.”

Orthopedic surgery is the latest service to be brought under the umbrella of the Willmar Medical Services joint venture. ACMC and Rice Hospital also operate the Willmar Surgery Center, the Willmar Regional Cancer Center and the Willmar Diabetes Center through the joint venture, as well as medical imaging, anesthesiology and sleep medicine. The two entities share 50-50 in the ownership.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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