Center sets off debate

July 03, 2003 12:00 am

By ABBY SOUZA

and PATTY FULLER

Backed by a group of Mother Lode doctors, an outpatient surgical center that would compete with area hospitals is in the planning stages.

Orthopedic surgeons Steve Peterson and Frank Whitney; ear, nose and throat specialists James Reese and Daniel Dubose; urologist Douglas Ankrom and surgeon Steve Hopkins, all based in Sonora, are involved in the project that has the region's medical community abuzz.

But talk of when such a center might open is "a shade premature," Whitney said.

"The interest is definitely there. … Right now there is a little bit of a slowdown," he said. Pending legislation could change the way surgery centers are run.

"We're going to hold our breath for a little while."

As far as buying property, Whitney would say only that the group is in "the process of negotiations." He would not say where the center might be located.

As for building an outpatient surgery center when operating facilities are already available at three area hospitals, Whitney said he believes surgeons can provide better service in a place they themselves oversee.

Still, he said he is aware of rumors about the project and the "political aspect" of how it might affect Sonora Community Hospital and Tuolumne General Hospital, both in Sonora, and Mark Twain-St. Joseph's Hospital in San Andreas.

The other doctors involved did not return phone calls, but Whitney confirmed that they are project partners.

Orthopedic surgeons Craig Lovett and Airell Nygaard, who share offices in Sonora and Angels Camp, said they were approached about joining in the outpatient surgery center as investors and partners. Both declined.

"All of the surgeons had an opportunity to participate in this and be an investor," Nygaard said. "I didn't even think about the issue. I don't think it's a good idea. Medical facilities that duplicate services, in my opinion, end up costing the community more than they save the community. … Everybody that I've talked to has been very upset and irritated by it."