Health Care

Wilmington Eye Shares Vision For Surgery Center In The Works

By Scott Nunn, posted Nov 30, 2020
Wilmington Eye's ambulatory surgery center is under construction on South 17th Street in Wilmington. (Photo by Scott Nunn)

Drivers on 16th and 17th streets have seen the large building going up near the Burger King. Officials with Wilmington Eye say its new ambulatory surgery center will have patients also seeing millions in savings while receiving the latest in care.

“The opening of Wilmington Eye’s surgery center is going to greatly increase access to cutting-edge ophthalmic surgery at drastically reduced costs,” said Alan Oester Jr., the Wilmington Eye physician who spearheaded the project.

A certificate of occupancy is expected to be granted by this summer, followed by certifications required by state and federal agencies.

“If all goes as planned, we'll start performing cases late 2021, early 2022 at the latest,” Oester said Monday.

“This is not only a major advancement for our patients that will be having surgery here. It will also benefit our entire community by alleviating pressure on the healthcare system in southeastern North Carolina as it struggles to maintain access to care with the exploding population,” Oester said.

Wilmington Eye, a locally owned medical practice and the largest multi-specialty ophthalmology group in southeastern North Carolina, has offices at six locations in the region. Its current largest location in Wilmington is in New Hanover Medical Park, directly across the street from the new facility, which will be the only ambulatory center in Eastern North Carolina that is focused primarily on ophthalmic surgery.

Oester said that the 15,500-square-foot center will be used solely for surgical procedures and none of the other locations will close.

Officials with Wilmington Eye say that performing specialty procedures such as cataract surgery and cancer reconstructions in the outpatient center instead of a hospital could save patients up to 40%. Patients also should see more availability for procedures, shorter wait times and more direct access to care. At the same time, the highest quality of care will be maintained as procedures are performed in a facility designed, equipped and staffed solely for eye care, practice officials say.

“All of the ophthalmic surgical equipment will be brand new and thus will represent the most up-to-date technology available,” Dr. Oester said. “The current equipment at some of the places we perform surgery, like the hospital and Surgcare, are about 10 years old.”

The center will have two femtosecond lasers, a cutting-edge device used in eye surgery and not currently available here.

Currently, Wilmington Eye surgeons perform thousands of procedures at hospital-based facilities. In those facilities, patients pay a much higher cost for their procedure, often for fees unrelated to their actual procedure, such as inpatient services and hospital-based overhead fees, officials with Wilmington Eye said. 

"Our plan for state-of-the-art technology in our facility is not currently available in our community,” said Kathy Erickson, executive director at Wilmington Eye, which has a staff of nine opthamologists and seven optometrists. “This technology will allow surgeons to utilize data from clinic testing and real time data during surgery to work toward great outcomes for our patients." 

In addition to the benefit for patients, officials said, the opening of the center will add an expected 26 new jobs to the area, including operating room nurses, pre- and post-op nurses, surgical technicians and administrative positions.

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