No one likes going through surgery. And certainly no one would prefer a stay at a hospital over a stay at a luxury hotel. But during those times when a hospital stay is a medical necessity, why not make the experience as nice as possible? That’s the philosophy behind Omega Hospital in Metairie.
We’re a luxury hospital,” says CEO Dr. Eric George. “Our facility is high-end. We cater to all of the things that make you think you’re in a luxury hotel. It’s a whole different feel.” Like a high-end hotel, the patient rooms (which are private) are stocked with plush robes, flat-screen TVs, a minibar and a microwave. The couches in the common areas are stylish, and the general atmosphere is inviting.
Although Omega now does a variety of surgical procedures, it focused on breast cancer operations when it first began in 1999. The original concept was to create a spa-like ambience to appeal to women. Omega Hospital is also quite small, with fewer than 20 beds as opposed to the 100 to 200 beds that one might find in a typical medical center. Each nurse on duty tends to only two patients.
“Surgery is scary enough,” says George. “And the way health care has changed, sometimes patients’ problems get lost in the paperwork. At Omega, we didn’t want patients to get lost in the whole hospital shuffle and have to deal with a bureaucracy. Here they can focus on getting well.”
Along with the upscale facilities, another part of the concept is to try not to be all things to all people. Instead, the focus is on a select number of specialty procedures. As a result, many patients fly in from elsewhere to undergo surgery. Likewise, several of Omega’s doctors live in other parts of the country and travel to New Orleans to perform their procedures. The facility is a medical hub of sorts.
In a way, Omega is more than just a hospital. It’s a new health-care model, and others in the region are beginning to imitate it. George reports that some former stockholders at Omega have left to start their own like-minded ventures, and he hears that New Orleans’s big health-care players like Ochsner and East Jefferson have made exploratory moves to start similar boutique facilities.
This model, which is proving so successful in the New Orleans area, might not be easily replicated elsewhere. “The people of New Orleans are in tune with getting good service,” George says. “They know what a good restaurant is. They know what a good hotel is. Basically, they know what good service is. It’s unlike in other places, where many people may accept mediocrity.”
In addition, for the out-of-town patients, New Orleans is part of the attraction. Omega welcomes them and their families to town through arrangements with hotels, limousine services and restaurants. While the patients undergo surgery, their families pass the time on prebooked sightseeing tours. Even if they’re not at the hospital the whole time, some patients may stay in town a week or so and come to fall in love with the city.
George is not just the CEO of Omega Hospital. He’s a surgeon there, too, specializing in orthopedic hand procedures. In this capacity, he runs a separate but related business—the Hand Center of Louisiana—with his partner Dr. Charles Clasen. At the same time, George has stakes in an array of business ventures, including several assisted living centers around Louisiana and the Windsor Court hotel. His portfolio includes some oil investments and even a pineapple farm in Panama. Still, George seems careful not to appear boastful about his many holdings and is modest about his obvious business acumen.
“It’s a lot on my plate. I work a lot of hours,” he admits. “Between the surgeries, the hand practice and managing Omega, it’s is a fair amount of work. But all the great people around me make it easy. Any good CEO will tell you that. Surround yourself with great people. I have attorneys and CPAs that handle my different businesses. And at Omega, I want to give credit to all the doctors, the other stockholders and the staff. They take pride in Omega. They consider it their hospital.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that George was a hard-working, ambitious student. Growing up as the son of a corporate attorney in West Virginia (he still retains a touch of that regional accent), he graduated from a local university a year early with double majors in chemistry and political science. He got accepted to both medical school and law school and even considered going to both. But he ended up sticking with medical school.
Still, his ambition and hunger for knowledge caused him to explore general surgery, reconstructive surgery and finally orthopedic hand surgery. This journey took him from West Virginia to various parts of the Midwest to Arizona and then to Louisiana. His wife, “the love of my life” whom he married when he was just 19, naturally followed him to all these place. They have two high school–age children together. “She’s put up with me a long time,” he jokes.