New surgery chief operating on L&M

Dr. Garth Ballantyne, left, the new head of the surgery department at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Eric Sommer, right, director of laparoscopic and bariatric surgery, visit with a patient at the hospital on Monday.
Dr. Garth Ballantyne, left, the new head of the surgery department at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Eric Sommer, right, director of laparoscopic and bariatric surgery, visit with a patient at the hospital on Monday.

New London - With its surgeon roster depleted by retirements and relocations, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital might have seemed at a handicap in recruiting a new surgery department chief.

But Dr. Garth Ballantyne saw an intriguing challenge.

"There was an opportunity to shape a new department," Ballantyne said in an interview Friday.

Since Ballantyne, 59, became head of L&M's surgery department, he has begun to rebuild the department. Three new physicians have been hired, and he is seeking to bring in two to three more in the near future, and more later. When he began in May, L&M had three general surgeons on staff, about a third the number it once had. He replaces Dr. Michael Deren, now semi-retired, as surgery department chairman.

"We're thrilled to have him here," said Bruce Cummings, L&M president and chief executive officer.

Cummings noted that on Wednesday, Ballantyne heads to France to make presentations about laparoscopic surgery at a physicians conference and has also co-written several academic journal articles on bariatric surgery and other topics.

"He brings national and even international stature to our organization," Cummings said.

In the new department Ballantyne is creating, the general surgeons will complement a staff of surgical specialists, in keeping with trends in the training and preferences of recent medical school graduates. In addition, he is overseeing an expansion of the range of types of surgery and surgical techniques and devices used, including robotic surgery, at L&M.

"This hospital represents for me a community hospital that is responding to the changes in surgery," said Ballantyne, a specialist in laparoscopy and bariatric surgery, colon and rectal cancer surgery and robotic surgery.

Next month, L&M will begin doing bariatric surgeries for the first time, offering three different types that Ballantyne says will best serve the unique needs and preferences of individual patients. Information sessions about the weight-loss procedure are planned, and eight local residents are in preliminary stages to be among the first to have the surgery at L&M.

"There is a demonstrated need in southeastern Connecticut that is currently not being met," Ballantyne said. "About 400 people a year are leaving this area for bariatric surgery."

Ballantyne comes to L&M, with 280 beds, from Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., a 750-bed teaching hospital where he held a series of top positions in the surgery department over 13 years there, but which was "too big to change," he said. Among his professional and academic credentials before that are 10 years on the Yale Medical School faculty and as a surgeon and physician-administrator at the VA hospital in West Haven. He received his doctorate in medicine at Columbia University and earned a master's degree in business administration at Yale in 2009 out of a desire to better understand market challenges facing health care.

Throughout his time in New Jersey, he kept his Connecticut home in Branford, where his grown daughter now lives while attending nursing school. He and his wife, Helen, recently moved into a home on Pequot Avenue.

Beyond the location, he was also attracted to L&M because it is a financially stable institution, a particularly crucial concern amid the many changes facing health care, and had started the L&M Physicians Associates as a joint doctor-hospital venture to help stabilize local physician practices.

Cummings said the surgery department Ballantyne is building will combine the best of the general surgery model with the specialist model. Ballantyne plans to create centers of excellence within the surgery department for colorectal surgery, breast surgery, reflux and swallowing surgery and other types, based on the growing needs of the aging baby boomer population.

When fully staffed, L&M does about 10,000 to 12,000 same-day and inpatient surgeries annually. Cummings said surgery is one of L&M's core offerings, so ensuring it has a strong department is essential.

"His task will be to weave together the skills of our existing surgeons, with their breadth of training and experience, with those of the new surgeons with more narrow specialties," Cummings said. "It's a coup for us to get someone of his stature to come to our organization."

j.benson@theday.com

UBOX:

What: Information session on bariatric surgery

Where: Offices of Dr. Ballantyne and Dr. Eric Sommer, Shaw's Cove 4, Suite 201

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 23

More information and registration: (860) 444- 7675 or www.lapsurgery.com

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