FORT MYERS — Imagine a long list of services that are needed at hospitals, from instrument sterilization to food preparation, all being done under one roof.
Couple with that a nearly 250,000-square-foot building that's designed to withstand the strongest hurricane winds. The daily operations taking place inside could be tapped in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
That's what the new $47-million LeeSar complex can do when it's finished in late July on a 23-acre site at Winkler and Evans avenues in Fort Myers.
LeeSar is a regional health-care supply management company started in 1998 by the Lee Memorial Health System and Sarasota Memorial Health, both public hospitals. The intent is efficiency and better negotiating power on contracts, bulk purchases and equipment repair.
Leesburg Regional Medical Center in Central Florida and Huntsville Hospital in Alabama have since joined the management company.
LeeSar's current operation in Lehigh Acres is in a 60,000-square-foot building that lacks air conditioning. The new Fort Myers regional center will allow for expansion.
With 40 to 50 new positions and a consolidation of jobs that have been based at Lee Memorial's hospitals, the complex will have 320 workers and more with growth, said Robert Simpson, president and chief executive officer of LeeSar.
Construction this past year provided 200 jobs.
Jim Nathan, president and chief executive officer of Lee Memorial, said LeeSar has been valuable to the hospital system, which runs four hospitals with 1,461 beds and a 60-bed rehabilitation center.
"It is essential that health-care organizations find economies of scale that improve performance, safety and access to the latest technology while reducing costs," Nathan said. "In a community like ours that is very government dependent, mostly Medicare and Medicaid patients, it is even more essential that we be innovative.
"LeeSar has successfully demonstrated over the past decade that it has been able to dramatically reduce our supply costs," he said. "With the new facility, we will be able to expand to other health-care organizations while also expanding programs and services."
Bill Tousey, vice president of Cooperative Services of Florida, which handles contract negotiations for LeeSar, said his staff handles $500 million to $600 million a year in contracts. He couldn't specify how much the hospital systems have saved through their joint venture.
"Lee Memorial and Sarasota Memorial, over the last three years, their supply costs have remained even," he said. "While everyone else's prices have gone up, their expenses flatlined."
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Patients probably don't think about how surgical instruments, implants and other devices in hospitals are prepared for use. But it's been a key planning component for LeeSar, which will take over sterilization that's done now at each campus.
Trays of used instruments will be trucked to the complex, unloaded and separated between what goes to any of the four new sterilizers from what needs to be hand-washed and then sterilized.
Employees in sterilization positions go through 13 weeks of training, and the air in the "dirty room" is sealed off from the sterilized room. There will be 20 work stations for staff to sort and assemble surgical trays that must be prepared for all hospitals. Each tray will be tracked by bar coding.
Each hospital will be added one by one to the sterilization service at the complex, starting with Gulf Coast Hospital in September, said Denise Anderson, executive director of sterile processing. Cape Coral Hospital will be second, followed by Lee Memorial Hospital and HealthPark Medical Center.
"There are 800 different types of trays for processing," Anderson said, adding that staff tries to standardize the instruments for trays by specialty and procedure.
Some surgical trays must be done with specific instruments based on surgeons' preferences, she said.
For pharmaceuticals, LeeSar purchases in bulk and repackages to individual doses. That reduces medical errors and waste, and enhances safety, said Ken Greco, director of pharmacy.
"We did two million individual doses last year and 250,000 (intravenous) solution bags," he said.
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Another service that will be centralized is the "cook and chill" food service by Culinary Solutions, a Lee Memorial program.
On any given day, staff members work on 70 to 80 recipes for bedside patients, physicians, special diets, medical nutrition, cafeterias and catering.
The service is organized around meal preparation by ingredient, so one person will prepare an ingredient for several menu items, said Larry Altier, assistant director of food and nutrition.
Instead of different employees at different sites cutting onions, it will be done at one location with one machine.
"That frees up labor and resources," he said. "We do the pieces of the puzzle and send them to the hospitals and they put it together."
Hot soups and other hot meal components are cooked and then chilled to pasteurize the product. The program will be able to have inventory for a 14-day supply for 10 hospitals, based on 2020 projections, he said. That's where the culinary service and LeeSar could be advantageous in natural disasters, such as hurricanes, he acknowledged.
"It could be a huge resource in the community in the event of a natural disaster," he said.