RICHLAND -- A nurse clad in blue scrubs held a teenage boy's hand on a recent summer day as he went under anesthesia for a tonsillectomy at the Tri-City Regional Surgery Center in Richland.
The nurse talked to the boy in a gentle voice, asking him how he spent his summer and what his favorite ride was at the fair. He replied softly and drifted off to sleep.
Within 30 minutes, the unusually large tonsils that had inhibited his speech and swallowing were gone. Within a few hours, he was recovering at home.
From tonsillectomies to shoulder repairs, Tri-Citians have an alternative to hospitals for elective, outpatient surgeries that advocates say can save patients time and moneys.
The Tri-Cities has several outpatient surgery centers that perform procedures in operating rooms that look just like the ones in a hospital -- the only difference is that patients go home to recover afterward instead of checking in.
"We try to present to the patient a safe and nonstressful environment," said David Weber, Tri-City Regional Surgery Center director.
Weber said the surgeons who choose to operate at the surgery center are the same ones patients might see at a hospital -- it's the surgeons who decide the best location for the surgery.
Sometimes that's in a hospital if the surgery is complex, or requires an overnight stay, or if the patient might be at risk for complications.
Other times coming to the surgery center makes sense -- when the surgery is simpler and the patient can be in and out in a few hours.
Tri-City Regional Surgery Center has more than 40 doctors who have privileges to operate there and keep their offices elsewhere, similar to a hospital but without the bureaucracy associated with big hospitals, Weber said.
Patients check into a lobby like the one at their family doctor's office, then are taken back to a preparation area with curtained cubicles similar to an emergency department.
When they're ready, they're whisked off to a sterile operating room.
Scott Faringer, administrator for Tri-City Orthopaedic Clinic in Richland, said surgery centers save patients money because Medicare and insurance companies reimburse them at about half of the rate of a hospital, so the amount patients pay is lower.
"There is no doubt we save this country a lot of money," Faringer said.
Tri-City Orthopaedic only does orthopedic surgeries, and has its own physicians on staff rather than granting privileges to doctors from outside.
Faringer said the benefit of coming to a surgery center that's part of a physician clinic is that the doctors and staff are specialists, which tends to make things flow more efficiently.
"The efficiency is not only great for the patient, but the doctors love it," he said.
"Here we know everything is going to run on schedule."
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org