Paige Cripe: OAK CEO

Paige Cripe, the chief executive officer of OAK Orthopedics, held a similar job in Alaska before coming to Kankakee County.

It is a challenging job at a challenging time. Paige Cripe is the chief executive officer of OAK Orthopedics. It is unclear how rare women executives are in the health care field, but they are the exception. Becker’s Hospital Review says 11 percent of hospital CEOs are female, even though 46.8 percent of all health care workers are women. In some direct care fields, such as nursing and home health care, women are largely predominate.

At the same time, Cripe is guiding OAK through a major project — a $15.5 million plan to build a surgical center along U.S. Route 45 near the new Bourbonnais Interchange on Interstate 57.

Think talked with Cripe. The questions were asked by Phil Angelo, the answers provided by Cripe. Both are edited for length and continuity.

What inspired you to get into the health care field?

It wasn’t an intentional thing at first, but I liked the strategy of it. It’s a very dynamic field, and when I started in the 1990s, there were a lot of mergers and a lot of change.

In a real sense, this field has blended both of my parents’ careers. My father was in construction and my mother was a nurse, so when I helped plan a surgery center and a new building for nurses, it gives me more insight into both my parents’ careers.

How did you get to Alaska from Indiana?

A big part of it was the spirit of adventure. I had been offered two jobs — one in Atlanta and one in Alaska. I figured I could always go to Atlanta. I did not regret going to Alaska. The hiking and the fishing were phenomenal.

Then how did you get to OAK Orthopedics?

I had come back to Indiana and was taking a year off, flipping houses. I knew most of the orthopedic practices in Indiana, and I heard of the opportunity here. It was 45 minutes from my hometown. I still can be close to family, even making birthday dinners on a Monday night, while staying in my field of expertise.

OAK is the same size as the practice in Alaska, with many of the same projects. Whether it’s growing the practice, developing a surgery center or moving into new office space, I’m excited to utilize my previous experiences here in Illinois.

What changes are coming to OAK?

We have been approved for a Certificate of Need for a three-operating room surgical center. This center will be located on 50 acres on Route 45 at the 6000 North interchange. We plan to break ground in July 2020. The facility will be 50,000 square feet and the beginning rough estimate for the project is $15.5 million.

The doctors’ offices will eventually move there, too. This will be a specialized surgical center that only does orthopedics. The future of orthopedics will call for more and more outpatient surgery replacing knees and hips. There will be increased efficiency and a cost savings for the consumer.

What other changes have just occurred?

We now have our Immediate Orthopedic Access Clinic. The idea is that you can just walk in with an injury, rather than stopping first at the emergency room. We have longer hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The costs savings for patients is anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent compared to a visit to a hospital.

We also added physical therapy at our Frankfort location, 19552 S. Harlem Ave. There’s an advantage for the patient when it comes to communication when the doctor and therapist are in the same office.

The other significant change is that our surgery center now is doing total joints in an outpatient setting. Healthy patients can receive a total knee or total hip and go home same day following their surgery. It not only saves them considerably on the cost of the surgery, but typically results in better patient satisfaction scores and lower infection rates. We’re excited to be able to expand these services with our new surgery center.

Do you have any tips for people to stay in good orthopedic health, so they may not need to see the doctor, at least until later in life?

Stay in good overall health. Keep your muscle toned up. Joints are going to wear out, but strong muscles help keep everything in place. Keep excessive weight off.

There are always going to be tough, physical jobs — drywaller, plumber, farmer for example — that will be hard on joints, no matter what. People still are going to need us, but good condition makes everything, including recovery, better.

Does your job include recruiting doctors? If so, what do you look for in a doctor?

Yes. I leave the expertise about techniques to the physicians, I look to see if the doctor is relatable. Is he or she a good listener? You want doctors who are brilliant, but they also need to be able to speak in terms a layperson can understand and put themselves in the shoes of the patient.

You are a woman administrator. Have you been treated fairly?

People may underestimate me when they first see me, but they catch on quickly. Not only are the physicians primarily men, but they are mostly older than I am. If anything, I have been challenged more on being younger, but I have been treated with nothing but respect here in Bradley.

When people need orthopedic help, it is often because they have an immediate injury. It’s not a time when you have a long reflection on where you might go. How should people go about choosing someone for orthopedic work?

Talk to people. Talk to your friends at your church. Consider a doctor’s experience. You might have a complex fracture that not all surgeons will treat. Consider seeing a doctor who performs the complex fractures because if he can do those, your simple fracture might heal better.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

When I do my job well managing the business it relieves the stress from the doctors. They have less to worry about and can focus on being a great physician. Everyone wins, patients, staff, etc. when the physician can come in and only worry about medicine when I can handle all the business aspects for them.

We are in the midst of the political season, and there is a lot of discussion about the future of medicine. What do you see as the best future?

We have to be very careful to preserve the independent physician. There is significant benefit when it comes to better medicine and cost savings to the consumer when physicians remain independent.

Anything that we have not discussed that you would like to comment on?

I came from Alaska where there was a lot of concern regarding the high cost of health care. There were a lot of studies performed on what drove those high costs and factors to control it. With the increasing cost to live in Illinois, we would be remiss to not look at our overall spending on health care as well. OAK strives to be cost effective, and we, as an industry, need to start educating patients more on cost.

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