By Cora Van Olson
A longtime local ophthalmology practice is going under the Avera umbrella, but clients can expect services to continue uninterrupted.
Willcockson Eye Associates (WEA) and Avera announced they have entered into a professional services agreement (PSA) that goes into effect on Dec. 1. As part of the agreement, the Yankton-based eye care clinic will become part of Avera Medical Group (AMG) and change its name to Avera Medical Group Willcockson Eye Associates.
Avera has agreed to purchase WEA’s current location, 415 West Third Street, and services there will continue.
The PSA in no way alters WEA provides care to its existing or new patients, Dr. Gregory Kouri, OD, told the Press & Dakotan in an email.
“We will continue to see patients in our existing locations in Yankton and our outreach clinic in Norfolk, Nebraska, and, as we look to the future, we will discuss potential facility improvements to meet the needs of our patients and our staff.”
WEA sought a PSA or similar arrangement to allow for improved positioning and future changes in the delivery of eye care services, he said.
“The business of health care has become more complicated,” Kouri said. “Partnering with AMG will allow our collective organization to better serve Yankton and our surrounding communities.”
WEA has been providing ophthalmology services in Yankton since 1950, when Dr. Thomas H. Willcockson started his practice. He was joined by his son, Dr. John R. Willcockson, in 1975, and the two practiced together until Thomas Willcockson retired in 1991. John Willcockson continued to practice until his retirement in 2006. Kouri has been with WEA since 1996, while Dr. Trevor Kindle and Dr. Kelsey Fitzgerald both came aboard this year.
“Willcockson Eye Associates have had a long and very strong history of providing high-quality eye care in the Yankton region and in other locations where they provide outreach services,” said Doug Ekeren, regional president and CEO of Avera Sacred Heart Hospital (ASHH). “We are going to be working together to ensure high-quality eye care continues in this region.”
As part of this arrangement, all employees of WEA will become (ASHH) employees, he said.
“(Also), a joint operations council, consisting of leadership from both Avera Sacred Heart and WEA, will make decisions regarding the practice,” Ekeren said. “(WEA staff) has roles they are performing in the organization, and we need them to continue with those roles. We’ll talk about future plans, but we need to get the transition taken care of first.”
The PSA will also benefit the many eye-surgery patients that ASHH is already involved with, he said.
“There are eye cases that come in through the emergency department or our primary care providers,” Ekeren said. “This (PSA) ensures there is a strong connection between our providers and the providers at WEA. It will help ensure there is one more integrated step in taking care of the whole person.”
Kouri said he is confident that current WEA patients and new patients will receive the same level of care that WEA has historically provided.
“In fact, our patients can expect investments in enhanced technology designed to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes,” he said. “Also, with more providers, we seek to increase our outreach to communities our group has traditionally served.”
WEA is convinced that the PSA offers many benefits to its employees, as well as its patients and the communities it serves, Kouri said.
“Overall, the newly formed partnership between WEA and AMG is net positive for our community.” he said. “We believe this agreement will provide the stability, support and resources our clinic needs to thrive for years to come and continue the vision of the Willcockson family.”