- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - Today, the idea of outpatient surgical procedures does not seem that much out of the norm. In fact, it’s often preferred, partly because it’s less expensive than hospitalization.

But in 1972, the idea of doing any surgery - minimal or not - and allowing patients to go home the same day was unheard of. Not just in Minnesota, but across the country, St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/2pV6XGL ) reported.

So when Dr. Joseph Belshe and a small staff decided to revolutionize health care in Central Minnesota by offering patients this option, the concept faced some substantial hurdles.

“At the time we had to work (to change the minds of) insurance companies,” said Jeanette Stack, St. Cloud Surgical Center administrator. “We ended up doing cataract surgery for 10 years for free just to prove to Medicare that this was safe and good alternative.”

St. Cloud Surgical Center was the first freestanding outpatient surgical center in Minnesota and the second in the nation following Phoenix, Arizona’s Surgicare.

“We started St. Cloud Surgical Center for several reasons,” Stack said. “For starters we wanted to provide high quality care, but more importantly, provide that care at a lower cost. And we believe that healthy patients don’t need to be in a hospital setting to have certain procedures done.”

During its 45-year history, the surgical center has expanded from one operating room to 11. And the St. Cloud facility, 1526 Northway Drive, has grown from treating just a handful of patients to serving over 11,000 people throughout Central Minnesota in 2016 with the help of 175 team members.

With growing capabilities - such as surgical robots - and an increasing patient load, St. Cloud Surgical Center, like many health care facilities in Central Minnesota and nationwide, has become a hot spot for those interested in health care jobs.

Careers in the health care sector are among the fastest-growing occupations nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated jobs across the sector to increase by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding about 2.3 million new jobs across the country.

In Central Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development estimates the number of health care practitioners and technical occupations, to grow by 14.5 percent between 2014 and 2024.

Industry growth and future demand for employees have prompted coverage on businesses like St. Cloud Surgical Center as part of the 10-month career exploration series Spark: Igniting Your Future. The Times Media series features a different industry each month that is growing - according to DEED data - and in need of workers.

While this growth also includes positions that require a bachelor’s degree or higher - think doctors and registered nurses - there are also plenty of options for those looking at pursuing an associate degree from a local technical and community college.

For Stack, those positions at St. Cloud Surgical Center include surgical technicians who play a vital role in the operating room each day.

“We are open by about 4:30 a.m.,” Stack said. “And our first case will start at 6 a.m.”

Stack said surgical technicians are often some of the first on the job. They are required to not only study each surgery to help assist the doctors, they are also responsible for preparing the operating rooms for each procedure.

Surgical technicians can also assist in preparing patients for surgery and transferring them to and from the operating room.

“And they are responsible for cleaning up after the procedure as well,” Stack said.

During a typical day, Stack said the surgical center can do around 55 procedures, with the last surgery typically scheduled to start around 5 p.m.

“But we have a whole team of people we employ that have an associate degree,” Stack said. “Nursing assistants, health information programmers. And even our front desk people have to have some background in medical terminology.”

Stack said the surgical center has a large pool of available talent, thanks in part to St. Cloud Technical & Community College, St. Cloud State University and College of St. Benedict. And as a teaching facility, Stack said, St. Cloud Surgical Center does provide internships for nurses, surgical technicians and other positions.

“We are very, very fortunate because we work with a lot of these school programs and have hired a lot of their graduates,” Stack said.

Stack said while St. Cloud Surgical Center is not hurting for employees now, future demand for health care workers industrywide makes it a worthwhile option for students (and others) to consider.

“(Health care) is a very good area to be in,” Stack said. “And if you aren’t sure what option you want, check out the tech colleges. There are a lot of degrees out there.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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