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Southern Bone & Joint offering patients one-stop medical shop

Hattiesburg — Southern Bone & Joint Specialists, P.A., is a trend-setting healthcare practice. As Mississippi’s first comprehensive musculoskeletal center, they offer an array of specialty medical services and call themselves a one-stop center for assessment and management of conditions of bone, joints, muscles, nerves and tendons.

Opened in 2000, the professional association has three components, according to CEO David Burckel. Those are the clinic, Southern Bone & Joint Specialists; surgery, the Southern Surgery Center; and real estate, Southern Development Resources. The facility is built on a 7 1/2-acre campus, Southern Pointe, on Highway 11, a few miles south of the city’s two hospitals.

“We will have further development but not just anything,” said Richard A. Conn, M.D., one of the founding members. “We want it to be class A office space that will enhance our campus.”

In Southern Bone & Joint’s 55,000-square-foot building, patients have access to orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgery, open MRI, outpatient surgery center, sports medicine, physical and occupational therapy, prosthetics and orthotics and rheumatology and arthritic disease care.

Burckel said the building’s third floor leases space to other physicians, a prosthetics company and a physical rehabilitation service — all working together for the one-stop care concept for patients.

“More and more practices are trying to integrate services to bring it all together for patients,” he said. “That gives better continuity of care and can better accommodate patients.”

That’s the trend across the country and the Hattiesburg group was on the curve, he said. They have had a number of groups come to see and observes what Southern Bone & Joint is all about. Conn said the nearest similar facility he is aware of is located in Mobile, Ala., modeled after Southern Bone & Joint.

“There are cost concerns in healthcare everywhere in the U.S., and providers are trying to figure out how to be more effective,” Burckel said. “That’s part of what’s driving this trend.”

Conn, a Hattiesburg native whose father was the first bone doctor in the area, says what they have is unique and not something every market can bear.

“An enormous amount of energy went into this. It took a leap of faith in ourselves and our patients,” he said. “At first, lending institutions were cordial but cool. It took a lot of selling to convince them to go along with us.”

They communicated their plans to the local hospitals where all the partners were and still are on staff. Outpatient surgery involving patients with potential complications and surgery requiring hospital stays are performed at Forrest General Hospital and Wesley Medical Center.

“We felt like we had a lot to offer the public and thought we should be our own entity,” Conn said. “This was done 100% by us and us alone after a lot of serious discussion and two years of putting all the pieces together.”

He said none of the partners have any regrets about their venture and that if anything, they should have built a fourth floor for their building. Burckel said the partners will take any leased space that becomes available in the building and has already activated a third operating room with plans to open a fourth. They are also in a recruiting process for additional physicians at this time.

“Our goal is to have three or four more physicians in a two to three year time frame,” he said.

The feedback from patients has been nothing but extremely positive and draws patients from a large radius that includes all of Mississippi and some parts of Alabama and Louisiana, Conn said.

“We consider ourselves a regional facility, not local,” Burckel said. “People look us up on the Internet and see that a physician has a certain specialty. Even with a drive of several hours they save time and trouble by making the trip here.”

Dr. Keith Melancon, a general orthopaedic surgeon, said, “A lot of our patients drive in from homes that are two hours away, and we’ll take care of them in one day. We can do every part of the workup in our office and they’re very pleased not to have to worry about another four-hour round trip.”

Conn said developing the center has allowed the partners to grow their practice while Mississippi has been in troubled times medically, and has created an attraction for young surgeons to come to the state.

“Developing our center allowed an opportunity to provide enhancements to others,” he said. “I think that’s why they chose to come to Hattiesburg because they liked what they saw here.”

Burckel said the center had the first open MRI, an open-design magnetic resonance imaging system, within a 90-mile radius of Hattiesburg. The equipment helps minimize the anxiety that some patients feel in closed MRI units and accomplishes its task more quickly. It runs six days a week from 6:30 a.m. until midnight and is an example of how the facility operates to accommodate patients.

“We try to do things for the convenience of patients, and most would rather not wait for weeks to get this imaging done,” Burckel said. “They can come during their lunch time, after work or on Saturday.”

Having outpatient surgical suites strictly devoted to orthopaedics is more cost effective for insurance companies and patients, he said. Patients can remain at the center for 23 hours during which time nurses closely monitor them.

“Patients love it this way,” Burckel said. “A patient may be a healthy person except he hurt his knee and for that he doesn’t want to be in a hospital.”

The care at Southern Bone & Joint allows a patient to theoretically walk into the clinic with an injured knee, undergo magnetic resonance imaging done that morning, have surgery at noon, see a therapist in the afternoon, have a brace made, and go home, explains Dr. Melancon. “Not that we do that regularly, but it’s very possible in our office whereas it was impossible at either of the hospitals,” he said.

Some of the advanced procedures currently being done there include total ankle replacement, mini-hip replacement, partial knee replacement, anterior cervical disc fusion, minimally-invasive intradiscal electro-thermal therapy for low back pain, advanced trauma care and arthroscopically assisted mini-incision fracture care.

The center also has the only hand surgeon in South Mississippi, Rocco Barbiere, who repairs damage to hands and lower extremities of arms.

Additionally, they are the official sports medicine physicians for the University of Southern Mississippi, William Carey College, Pearl River Community College and most area high schools. They offer a free Saturday sports clinic during football season and free physicals in the spring.

There is also a strong community involvement that includes the United Way, Diabetes Foundation, United Blood Services, Boy Scouts, Toys for Tots, March of Dimes, American Heart Association and the Humane Society.

In addition to Conn, Melancon, Rouse and Barbiere, staff physicians include Susi Folse, physical medicine and rehabilitation; Lance Line, arthroscopy and sports medicine; Michael Patterson, orthopaedic spinal surgery, James W. Sikes, general orthopaedics; and Michael Stonnington, trauma and general orthopaedics.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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