Auburn Community Hospital Health System:A Destination For Quality Care

By: Elizabeth Landry

Dr. James I. Syrett Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Daniel Alexander, Chief Administrative Officer & Chief of Orthopedics, Dr. Emily Brooks, Chief Nursing Officer Joshua Alexander, Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Graziano, MD, Division Chief of Upstate Cancer Center Adult Hematology/Oncology, Scott Berlucchi, President & CEO Christina Sherman, RN, Director of Cancer Services, Auburn Community Hospital, Erik Burch, Sr. VP Administration

It’s hard to imagine the growing Auburn Community Hospital (ACH) of today filed for bankruptcy just 16 years ago. Since 2007, bolstered by the belief brighter days were ahead and led by the expertise of CEO and President Scott Berlucchi, FACHE, LNHA, Auburn Community Hospital has experienced a financial and operational turnaround. Berlucchi is known for his specialty in managing and growing small rural hospitals and has a proven track record for turning around struggling healthcare systems, as evidenced most recently by his leadership of ACH.

Today, ACH is both a Safety Net and Sole Community Provider Hospital offering a myriad of medical services to its patients. The health care center also encompasses the top-rated Finger Lakes Center for Living skilled nursing facility, three urgent care centers in the surrounding communities, and Auburn Memorial Medical Services, a multi-specialty physician group. Exciting additional services that will soon be offered at ACH include the new Auburn Heart Institute, Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, and Auburn Concussion Clinic, as well as new initiatives focusing on orthopedic care and excellence in nursing.

Reflecting on this exciting phase of expansion, Berlucchi emphasized the hard work of the entire team at ACH.

“The Center will provide needed care for the local community that they would otherwise have to travel long distances for and will also increase employment”

“We are taking care of our business. We could not do this without strong support from our Board of Trustees, led by Anthony Franceschelli, and an exceptional management team that has worked hard to transform our healthcare system. Demand for ACH’s services, utilization and growth continues to increase as we bring acute, post-acute and preventive care to members of our community. What I am most proud of is according to a recent study by The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Cayuga County has experienced remarkable year over year improvements in health outcomes vs. other NYS counties over the last 10 years despite numerous challenging health factors. That means as the only health system in the area we are making a difference in our community when it comes to health outcomes,” he said.

A recent partnership with Upstate Medical Center has allowed ACH to bring highly advanced specialty outpatient treatments closer to home for its patients, with the new comprehensive Cancer Center planned to open in January of 2024. The addition of the Cancer Center to ACH is aimed at directly improving the health and well being of the hospital’s patient population, as data indicates that cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Cayuga County. Additionally, according to Truven Health Analytics, 80% of residents in the surrounding area must travel further than 25 miles to receive medical oncology services.

To help alleviate these concerning circumstances, the Cancer Center allows patients to take advantage of “one-stop shopping” for their medical treatments, since the Cancer Center  is connected to the main hospital. Combined with the partnership of excellent SUNY Upstate cancer physicians, this increased convenience for patients will provide for more efficient, cost effective, and quality care right in their own community. Dr. Komal Akhtar, Medical Director for the new Cancer Center, has extensive training in Internal Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology, and is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She expressed her excitement about the impact the new Cancer Center will have on the area served by ACH.

“The Center will provide needed care for the local community that they would otherwise have to travel long distances for and will also increase employment,” she said. “The partnership with SUNY Upstate Cancer will provide world class care and lives will be saved because of the care given locally. This is the hospital’s highest priority and a critical part of our long-term sustainability as the largest employer in the area.”

Alongside the addition of the Cancer Center, ACH is enhancing the level of cardiovascular care for its patients with the new Auburn Heart Institute. Located in a newly renovated wing on the third floor of ACH, this multimillion-dollar investment in cardiac care will be led by Dr. Ronald Kirshner, who was recently appointed as its chair and medical director. Dr. Kirshner recently served as the Chief of Cardiac Services and Cardiothoracic Surgery at Rochester Regional Health Sands Constellation Heart Institute for over 30 years, and his clinical interests and expertise include creating systems to drive healthcare efficiency and quality.

After Berlucchi had asked Dr. Kirshner to come to ACH and recommend improvements to its cardiac care offerings, Dr. Kirshner found that for those in Auburn and Cayuga County, the risk of dying from heart disease is significantly higher than other parts of the state. He thus identified the need for a comprehensive cardiac care center at ACH, and the idea for the Auburn Heart Institute was born. The Heart Institute will offer many cardiac care services, from diagnostic testing to a cardiac catheterization laboratory, and the longterm vision is to perform procedures and surgeries at the facility.

Dr. Kirshner stated that he’s looking forward to continuing to build a strong team at the Heart Institute. “I’m excited about the opportunity to develop a world‐class heart institute in close collaboration with my colleagues and this community. We’re going to start out with the highest quality and that will be our North Star. Our goal is to make the Auburn Heart Institute a healthcare destination for cardiac care in Upstate New York. I’m committed to recruiting world-class cardiologists and other cardiac professionals to join our multidisciplinary team,” he said.

Exciting new developments at ACH are certainly not limited to cancer and cardiac care. In the realm of orthopedic care, Dr. Daniel Alexander joined Auburn Orthopedic Specialists (AOS) in October of 2022, and he has over 20 years of experience performing more than 20,000 surgeries. He is laser focused on continuing to build a “patient first” orthopedic practice at ACH. “The team at AOS has built a first-class orthopedic practice, and I look forward to helping them grow this practice. All the surgeons in the AOS practice are doing remarkable work, and I’m impressed with the investments Auburn Community Hospital leadership has made in new technology to allow this practice to grow and serve this community. I’m excited, too, about working with our  local physicians and those healthcare professionals who are doing remarkable work in our operating rooms and in the various service areas offered throughout our healthcare system,” he stated.

Another important addition to the team at ACH is Dr. James Syrett, who joined the hospital in May of 2023 as the Chief Medical Officer. Board certified in both Emergency Medicine and EMS Medicine, Dr. Syrett has become only the third physician within a 100 mile radius of Auburn to be certified by ImPACT Applications Inc., a leading provider of concussion management tools, which helps ensure healthcare providers have the necessary skills and knowledge to use the tools effectively. Utilizing his extensive experience in EMS and Emergency Medicine, as well as an interest in the emergency management of concussions. Dr Syrett will serve as the Medical Director of the new Auburn Concussion Clinic, which opened in October and is seeing patients next day when referred from other physicians. This gives patients immediate access to concussion specialists, which is unusual in this region.

The groundbreaking growth of service offerings at ACH, from orthopedics to cancer care, cardiac care, and emergency concussion management, is also bringing about excitement and a new vision for the hospital’s nursing staff. Led by Dr. Emily Brooks, DNP, RN, who joined the leadership team at ACH as the new Chief Nursing Officer in June of 2023, the nursing staff’s goal is to serve the surrounding community with the utmost compassion and highest quality of  evidence-based care.

“We’re creating a culture of nursing excellence at Auburn Community Hospital,” Dr. Brooks explained. “We’re creating the best place for nurses to work in a healthy work environment. This will create a nursing workforce committed to delivering the very best evidence-based care. For every patient that comes into our hospital, the goal is to be able to care for them here, in their community. As such, we have developed the very first Auburn Community Hospital Nursing Strategic Plan. The focus is quality, patient experience, excellence, and nursing performance.”

Certainly, the focus on providing highquality health care for patients right in their own community that Dr. Brooks emphasized is already having an immensely positive impact.

Looking to the future, Berlucchi has a vision for ACH to build on this success in the surrounding community and partner with other area hospitals to better serve patients throughout the wider region, as well.

“We want to work with the other central New York hospitals to become more of a regional health care hub that partners to provide care for the growing population, in particular the increased healthcare needs of employees and family members of Micron when that ramps up. I’m also very concerned about the lack of sufficient mental health care in our area and plan on working with NYS, Cayuga County Health Department, and the other hospitals to develop a comprehensive plan to  serve the needs of those suffering from mental health challenges and addiction,” said Berlucchi.

However, for Berlucchi and the rest of the team at ACH, there is no limit
to how far ACH’s reach will extend and how many patients’ lives will be positively affected by the quality care being offered. “What’s happening right here in Auburn is that we are working together with our community, regional partners and our State and Local governments to build the model for rural community hospitals,'” Berlucchi said. “We’ll take care of Auburn. We’ll take care of Cayuga County. But mark my words, you’ll see a region that is growing and we are going to see the whole region coming to Auburn for the level of care that we’re providing.”

“What’s happening right here in Auburn is that we are working together with our community, regional partners and our State and Local governments to build the model for rural community hospitals,’” Berlucchi said. “We’ll take care of Auburn. We’ll take care of Cayuga County. But mark my words, you’ll see a region that is growing and we are going to see the whole region coming to Auburn for the level of care that we’re providing.”


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