Founded in 1962 by three local anesthesiologists, this group has become a model in the health care industry and things are only looking up. See what makes these physicians special to the Rockford area.
Rockford Anesthesiologists Associated LLC (RAA) reached a significant mark this year, when the independent physician practice celebrated 50 years in business.
In the sometimes topsy-turvy world of health care, being in business that long is a remarkable accomplishment. “Many groups dissolve after 10 or 15 years and form new groups,” says Dr. Stephen Minore, president and CEO. “The fact that our group has functioned for 50 years under one umbrella is a testament to our members, the community, and to the patients and institutions for whom we provide care. One common theme we have is being the best in patient care, anesthesiology and pain management.”
RAA was founded in 1962 by three local anesthesiologists: Drs. Jack McKeague, Erwin Schilling and Edward Platt, all now deceased.
“Back then, Rockford, like a lot of places, didn’t have suitably trained professionals to administer anesthesia,” says Minore, who’s served as president for 19 years, the longest tenure of any of its five presidents.
“Anesthesiology was a new specialty that came into its own during World War II. Because of anesthesiology and the people trained in anesthesiology, the mortality from chest wounds dropped more than 70 or 80 percent because doctors knew how to ventilate the lungs, and, more importantly, control ventilation after surgery for a longer amount of time.”
Anesthesiologists are physicians responsible for a patient’s comfort and well-being before, during and after a surgical procedure. In the operating room, the physician directs anesthesia and monitors vital functions, including heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, body temperature and breathing.
“It’s one of the most critical parts of an operation,” says Minore, who also is president of Medical Pain Management Services in Rockford. “We’re responsible for changing a patient’s state from awake to anesthetized and back to an awake state. In our business, minutes count. We’re the patients’ hearts and lungs while they’re asleep.” About 50 percent of surgical patients are 65 or older.
Anesthesiologists go through a four-year college program, four years of graduate doctoral training and four additional years of internship and residency. RAA has 28 anesthesiologists and 33 certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), a field that became popular in 2000 as a way to help with the shortage of anesthesiologists.
“They’re nurses who’ve received extensive training in anesthesiology and work side by side with the anesthesiologists,” says Minore, who was board-certified in 1988. “Now patients have two care providers tending to their needs. There are two sets of eyes and two sets of hands taking care of every patient. We’re with the patient throughout the entire procedure.”
RAA anesthesiologists provide 24/7 in-house coverage at SwedishAmerican Hospital and OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, as well as Rockford Ambulatory Surgery Center, FHN Memorial Hospital, Rochelle Community Hospital and KSB Hospital in Dixon. RAA was one of the first groups in the country to require board certification for all of its physicians by the American Board of Anesthesiologists.
These membership requirements allow RAA to provide individuals the highest level of care in the areas of anesthesia services, chronic and acute pain management and critical care. “It’s a benchmark of skill and knowledge level,” says Minore. “We have very high standards for our members.”
Ongoing education is a key component in the field of anesthesiology. Many of the RAA physicians serve on regional and national committees and boards focusing on anesthesiology, pain management and surgery centers.
“We’re always learning, attending seminars and picking up new techniques,” Minore says. “The more senior members of our group learn from the younger individuals, and the younger staff members benefit by learning from senior members who’ve performed 30,000 to 50,000 anesthetic cases. Everyone here has brought something new to the group. You don’t want to be the first to use new technology or the last to use old technology. We’re among the leaders in our field.”
Minore says RAA has been instrumental in bringing many new technologies to the Rockford area. For example, he introduced transesophageal echocardiography (TEE), a new way to perform intraoperative echocardiograms. “It’s an anesthesiology procedure, but it’s also a cardiology procedure,” he says. “Anesthesiology was one of the first specialties to use TEE to look at the heart as a monitoring tool during open-heart surgery. Rockford was using this procedure well before 90 to 95 percent of major universities in the U.S.”
Anesthesiologists practice certain specialties such as pain management and cardiac, critical and pediatric care. “We have every specialty covered,” says Minore. “If someone is working on a case, he or she can speak to someone who’s performed many of these cases. In a smaller group you wouldn’t get that kind of experience.”
Attention to detail is the No. 1 priority. “Everything in anesthesiology is a detail,” says Minore. “Complacency in our business results in bad outcomes. When we have to make a decision in the operating room, we have 15 to 20 seconds to identify a problem, and then you have two or three minutes to solve the problem. You have to be aware of all the facts, and you have to know the patient as well as the surgeon does.
“We have complete control of the patient’s physiology, which can be very stressful. What’s remarkable about people who are anesthesiologists is their ability to work through a stressful case. They can regain their composure, and then, a short time later, do it all over again with the next patient, because they’re professionals and they do it very well.”
Minore is especially proud of the cohesiveness among the RAA staff. “Regardless of what’s going on in their personal lives, the group is there for each other,” he says. “They always go the extra mile for each other and they all care about one another. It’s a family.”
RAA celebrated its 50th anniversary in the fall with a dinner for staff members and their families. Retired physicians also were in attendance, sharing stories and history with current staff members.
“My greatest satisfaction is maintaining the professional and economic viability of our group through these tumultuous times,” Minore says. “As an independent group, we’re proud of our accomplishments. We individualize our care and offer a variety of specialties. Our job satisfaction is very high.”
Minore adds that the work of anesthesiologists will continue to be in great demand, despite many challenges, including a national shortage of medications and an increased rate of unhealthy patients due to high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and other risks.
“We have to take what we’re given and design an anesthetic and make it as safe as possible,” he says. “In the future, I see our specialty being called upon more and more to take care of patients who are more difficult due to their advanced age and poor health.”
RAA has come a long way since its modest beginnings. Minore says founders McKeague, Schilling and Platt would be proud of the growing practice and the progress being made in anesthesiology.
“They were hardworking physicians who would take on any case,” he says. “They used to tell me that we took the practice further than they ever imagined. But if it weren’t for them, we could never have taken it to the next level. They always hired professionals who were hungry to learn and hungry to work. And they always made sure they were board certified. That belief still stands today. Rockford has anesthesiology care that’s as good as anywhere in the country.”