The newest surgeons at Sumner Regional Medical Center have been keeping busy since they arrived in January, courtesy of the surgical group, Wichita Surgical Specialists, P.A. (WSSP)

Drs. Samantha Beck and Nicholas Brown started on rotating schedules, each appearing in Wellington every other week. Since then, Brown has moved to once a week.

Interim CEO Barry Harding says the two doctors have vastly improved the morale around the hospital.

While a boost in morale won’t be enough to make Sumner Regional a rousing success financially, it’s a start.

But those at the local hospital at least want the people of Wellington and the surrounding area to know of what Sumner Regional is capable.

Both of the new surgeons say they have recently performed surgeries at St. Francis in Wichita on patients from Wellington largely because the patients didn’t realize they could get the same service in Wellington.

Beck and Brown have performed surgeries in Wichita on at least five separate patients from Wellington/Sumner County in the past few weeks alone.

But the doctors say Sumner Regional offers more than just equal services in a closer location.

“The microscopic equipment here is better than what they have at the surgery centers in Wichita,” Dr. Beck said. “The monitors are better.”

“Any outpatient surgeries I would do in Wichita, I would do here also,” Beck added. “They have just as many capabilities, if not more. If I wanted to keep someone overnight here, I could.”

Dr. Brown said there seems to be a misconception among local patients that because Sumner Regional is an older hospital in a smaller town, it may not have the capabilities of a bigger hospital in Wichita. But the surgeon, who previously worked in Wellington for about a year before arriving in January on the deal with WSSP, says that’s just not true.

Brown wants people in the Wellington area to be more aware of what Sumner Regional is capable of offering from a surgical standpoint.

“It really is equivalent,” Brown said of the capabilities of SRMC. “The equipment they have here is really on par with any surgery center or hospital in Wichita. And a lot of times it actually ends up being better (in Wellington) because the equipment up there (Wichita) gets used so frequently that it wears out.”

Dr. Brown estimated that the equipment at hospitals in Wichita may get used two or three times per day, while here in Wellington it will get used approximately one or two times per week, meaning it lasts longer.

“The whole goal for having us down here was to capture some of those surgeries — number one to make it more convenient for the patient, but number two to help the hospital out. Our cases help drive their revenue,” Brown said.

While the occasional case or two — or even the five Beck and Brown have had recently — may not make or break the hospital’s future, it could begin to add up.

Brown said expenses depend on the individual case, but hospital figures for total charges of three separate hemorrhoidectomy cases were listed at ranges between $695 and $3,808.50.

Comparatively, the total charges for three separate hernia cases ranged from $780 up to $6,337.35.

“Those 20 cases a month that may go elsewhere — if you keep those in Wellington, that could really help out a lot,” Brown said.

Beck noted that the proximity for local patients is an obvious upside as well.

“They’d be close to their family and their family physician, so there’s that benefit,” she said.

Beck added that when she informed the two patients from Wellington she saw in Wichita that they could have had their surgeries at Sumner Regional, they seemed a bit surprised.

Brown’s surgeries on local patients in Wichita included two gallbladder surgeries and one inguinal hernia.

Beck noted gallbladder surgeries as well as hernia and hemorrhoid operations as ones she can do even easier at Sumner Regional than in Wichita because of the quicker turnaround.

“I think the quality of nursing is up there, too,” said Harding.

“It’s a smaller hospital, so they really care about their patients when they know them better,” Beck added.

“I think the important thing is that she can do anything here (Wellington) that she can do there (Wichita),” Harding said. “She doesn’t try to do things that we can’t do here because of equipment needs.”

“The only surgeries that we don’t do here are those that happen at night or the weekend,” Harding said. “But they all get referred to Dr. Brown or Dr. Beck or whoever is on call for WSSP that weekend.”

“I think Dr. Beck must have applied for 30 different procedures that she can do here,” Harding said.

Beck added that she can also do bigger surgeries here (colon resections, for example), but she prefers to be able to see her patients with smaller gaps of time, which is more difficult with her schedule.

“For me, I like to see my patients the next day,” Beck said. “I don’t like that gap of time. So it’s not that I can’t do it, I just don’t like to dump things on the family physician like that.”

“I love it,” Beck said of her experience at Sumner Regional so far. “I’m from a small town (in Arkansas), so I love the small town feel and getting to know people.”

“And the staff here just love them,” Harding said of Beck and Brown.

Harding said the attitude of Beck and Brown and the way they’ve been embraced by hospital staff and the operating room staff is like night and day difference from before they arrived.

“Right away, they told me how pleased they were (with the new surgeons),” Harding said of the SRMC staff.

Harding said that the surgeons are under contract, a professional services agreement.

“But as long as they want to stay,” Harding said. “I hope they outlast me here… There are no plans to bring in a full-time surgeon.”

“I met Drs. Beck and Brown the same time everybody else did,” Harding said. “I relied completely on the medical staff. They know the surgeons.”

Harding said the medical staff knew who they’d use and acted as referrals for Harding.

“All I wanted is to get them to agree and I told them I’d get the vehicle in place to get them here,” Harding said.

“I got here in October and we started having conversations in November.”

Harding added that the plan was officially put in place in December for Beck and Brown to join the Sumner Regional team, before they officially began in January.

“When I first got here and heard about surgery issues, the first thing I did was reach out to the medical staff,” regarding making a change in surgeries and picking up some help from Wichita.

That’s where Beck and Brown stepped in.

In addition to Sumner Regional Medical Center and Via Christi St. Francis, Beck said they bounce around to other hospitals throughout Wichita.

Beck is in Wellington performing surgeries at SRMC every other Wednesday, while Brown is now in town once a week.

Brown had worked in the past with Sumner Regional physician Dr. Steve Hawks when Brown was a medical student and Hawks was recently out of his residency, so the two had a previous working relationship.

In fact, it was Hawks who was responsible for getting Brown’s contact information to Harding, who called Brown about coming to Sumner Regional.

“It was Steve Hawks that got me Dr. Brown’s number and I remember calling him and he actually answered the phone, and here I am calling him from an area code in Texas,” Harding said.

“Dr. Beck and Dr. Brown have been great additions to SRMC,” Hawks said. “They are very well trained and well respected surgeons. Our group has a long relationship with Dr Brown. He spent a clerkship with us while in medical school. We have been referring patients to him for several years. He is a great surgeon who really cares about his patients.”

“Dr. Beck comes highly recommended by many of the surgeons that we have known and trusted for years,” Hawks added. “We are lucky to have her in Wellington. Having this caliber of surgeons in Wellington is great, as it allows our patients to have their routine, low-risk procedures performed at SRMC.”

Hawks noted that the new surgeons, in addition to Harding himself have been very positive for Sumner Regional.

“The staff at SRMC and providers at SCFCC are very impressed with the new surgeons,” Hawks said. “Morale at the hospital seems to have improved with Barry Harding's arrival.”

Hawks is a name and a face that Wellington trusts.

Vince Wetta, of Wellington, said he’s never had surgery, but if he ever needed it, he’d go to Sumner Regional.

“I’ve got some friends that swear by Wellington’s hospital,” Wetta said. “They saved their lives… I would trust the doctor I go to, Dr. Hawks.”

“I go to Dr. Hawks, too,” said another woman, who chose not to be identified. “And if Dr. Hawks likes them (Drs. Beck and Brown), I would trust him.”

“It’s great,” Dr. Brown said of his experience in Wellington so far. “There are wonderful people, and I think that’s the biggest thing. Everyone who works here cares about being here. They really care about the hospital.”

Harding will rave about his staff any chance he gets. He says he’s been impressed with the staff in Wellington from the get-go.

“I’ve been in a lot of hospitals,” Harding said. “And this is as good a quality medical staff and hospital staff as I’ve seen.”

That’s no small praise coming from the Sumner Regional Interim CEO who has worked in over 50 hospitals in more than 30 years working in health care.