Redefining hospitals

Published 5:00 am Sunday, July 26, 2015

Port Arthur residents primed for shuffle of medical services

The Christus Southeast Texas Health System plan to transform St. Mary Hospital into a short-stay treatment center as soon as Sept. 1 has many Port Arthur residents on edge.

On the face of the announcement, it sounds like St. Mary Hospital is downsizing before shutting its doors. To become an outpatient-focused center this fall, five departments will relocate to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont, and patients that are “high-risk” or need prolonged treatment will most likely be transferred to St. Elizabeth or another hospital.

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But Wayne Moore, Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary administrator and vice president of operations for Christus Southeast Texas hospitals, said St. Mary is not being utilized for the services that are leaving. By relocating those rarely-used departments, he said, the hospital will have more space to expand its outpatient services and provide better care to even more residents.

“The demand for inpatient services continues to decline, while the demand for outpatient care continues to explode,” Paul Trevino, CEO of Christus Southeast Texas Health System, said. “Over 98 percent of the care we provide at St. Mary Hospital today is outpatient care, outpatient services.”

Moore said the rising demand for outpatient services is impacting traditional hospitals throughout the nation, leaving swaths of vacant inpatient beds while outpatient waiting rooms are bustling with patients waiting to be seen.

“Our chief operating officer (Eugene Woods) sits on the Board of Trustees for the American Hospital Association, and he told us because of everything changing in the healthcare world — with hospitals more and more being utilized for outpatient care, and by extension the hospitals are transforming into outpatient-heavy services — the AHA was actually thinking about taking the word ‘Hospital’ out of the American Hospital Association.

“But because everybody, internationally, recognizes a hospital sign and knows what a white ‘H’ on a blue background means — help is nearby — they decided they had to keep the word in. But where does that leave us? We have to redefine what hospitals are, which is more and more outpatient facilities with very limited inpatient space. That’s how we’re changing to fit the needs of our patients — and it’s based on the model they’ve prepared through the services they use every day.”

Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary hospital on Gates Boulevard in Port Arthur will soon transform into a short-stay center focused on outpatient care. Many of the hospital's existing departments and services will relocate to Christus- St. Elizabeth in Beaumont this fall.

Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary hospital on Gates Boulevard in Port Arthur will soon transform into a short-stay center focused on outpatient care. Many of the hospital’s existing departments and services will relocate to Christus- St. Elizabeth in Beaumont this fall.


Trevino said beginning Sept. 1, Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary will no longer be a traditional hospital. Instead, it will be a short-stay center, providing outpatient chemotherapy and infusion services, emergency room access, radiology and laboratory services, and surgical capabilities.

“When we say we’ll be a short-stay center, we’re not changing definitions or anything like that. We’re just focusing on the services our patients are using now,” Moore said. “We will still provide inpatient and outpatient surgeries, but now we’re catering to patients who only need to stay three or four days.

“An outpatient surgery is simply a surgery where you’re either going to have your procedure and leave that same day, or you’re going to stay overnight and leave the next morning. A short-stay inpatient surgery covers procedures like total joint — a full hip or knee replacement, things like that — colon and gall bladder surgeries, and gynecological surgeries like hysterectomies. These are all surgeries with quick recovery times, where our patients don’t usually stay more than four days.”

Roy Steinhagen, chairman of the Christus Southeast Texas Health System Board of Directors, said the fact that 98 percent of St. Mary patients are in the hospital for outpatient care “speaks volumes about the quality of our healthcare.”

“The medical world today is not the way it was when our parents were younger, coming in for treatment for the same problems,” Moore added. “When our parents were younger, if they needed to have a gall bladder removed, they’d be in the hospital four or five days and come out with a pretty gruesome incision. When my mom was younger, she had a gall bladder surgery that was just horrible.

“But if you come in for the same surgery now, you’re only staying two or three days and the surgery is less invasive — you walk away with a small incision and a quick recovery time. It’s a new day and age as far as surgeries are concerned, and that’s a large reason why the entire hospital realm is moving toward outpatient care. Unless someone comes in with a very serious condition, they’re not going to stay in the hospital very long.”

Moore said “it’s better, nine times out of 10,” to have an outpatient surgery over an “invasive” inpatient surgery.

“But the bottom line is you can do whatever your physician feels comfortable with,” he said. “Your primary care physicians are still the gatekeepers, and they’ll make sure they don’t put their patients in harm — and we won’t either.”


Moore said it’s imperative for Southeast Texas residents to know the Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary campus will continue to operate the existing emergency room as it does today.

Transforming into a short-stay center has bred a lot of misinformation surrounding the hospital’s capabilities, he said, but St. Mary will not change how it handles patients in crisis situations.

“We will absolutely still have an emergency room here at this facility,” Moore said, “and we recommend people come to us if we’re the closest help. Anybody who shows up on this campus in an emergency situation will be taken in for treatment. If they’re full of co-morbidities or additional complications and need to be taken to a different facility once we stabilize them, we will transfer them to the closest, best-equipped hospital — just like we do now.

“There are times today when we have to stabilize critical patients and ship them to another facility. It happens in every emergency room across the U.S. Because high-risk patients, those with multitudes of issues, often need to be seen by multiple specialists. They may come into the hospital just for a gall bladder problem, but if they also have heart and cholesterol problems — anything that puts them at risk for cardiac arrest — our physicians may not feel comfortable treating them here. Without all the equipment and specialists — and, especially if we can’t reach the patient’s primary care physician — our emergency room physicians may feel more comfortable having you treated at a more full-fledged hospital like St. Elizabeth.”

A statue near the main entrance to Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary hospital in Port Arthur looks to the sky while holding a rosary.

A statue near the main entrance to Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary hospital in Port Arthur looks to the sky while holding a rosary.


Moore said the “underutilized services” that will relocate from Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary to Christus Southeast Texas- St. Elizabeth on Sept. 1 include obstetrics, neonatal intensive care, pediatric, cardiovascular and general medicine inpatient services.

“The important thing to stress for our potential patients is that all of the services that are leaving St. Mary and moving to Beaumont are not being used in Port Arthur,” Moore said. “You can probably count on your two hands the number of true pediatric cases we’ve had here in the last year. Births are at the bottom of the market here, too. We didn’t even have OB services here six to seven years ago. We brought it in and grew it to the point we’re at now — delivering an average of one baby a day. We’re not being utilized for those services here.

“And regardless of what our strategic plan is, our NICU services at St. Mary would probably be eliminated due to state mandates requiring every hospital to up the ante. At St. Elizabeth, we’re going to update and be able to take care of even sicker babies without our parents having to travel to Houston like they do now. We’ll definitely be the highest level NICU in the market, right at St. Elizabeth in Beaumont.”

Trevino said “unfortunately,” the changes at Christus Southeast Texas- St. Mary will affect the current hospital associates.

“Every effort will be made to preserve every job possible, and Christus Southeast Texas Health System will offer our associates the chance to transfer within the system,” he said.

Trevino said around 251 St. Mary associates will be retained on staff to operate the new short-stay surgical inpatient facility. The remaining 162 associates will be offered opportunities within the Southeast Texas region, where 144 positions were available at the time of the rebranding announcement. Additionally, Trevino said, other opportunities within Christus include more than 1,000 open positions system-wide.

Twitter: @crhenderson90