A new era begins today for Dallas County Hospital, with its first surgery to be performed outside the hospital's main campus in Perry.

The new outpatient surgery center, which will specialize in ophthalmic procedures, is located on the lower level of the Wolfe Eye Clinic Building, 6200 Westown Parkway.

Dallas County Hospital is leasing a recently completed 8,200-square-foot suite from the Wolfe Eye Clinic. The addition, which will operate as a department of the hospital, will enable DCH to expand its services to southern Dallas County for the first time, said Laurie Albert-Conner, the hospital's chief executive officer.

Founded in 1954, the 25-bed hospital serves Dallas, Greene, Guthrie and Boone counties.

"We are a county facility, and we want to have a presence and serve some of the community other than just in Perry," Albert-Conner said. The location just below Wolfe Eye Clinic will also provide greater convenience for patients, who can be seen by ophthalmologists on the upper level and then be referred to the lower level for surgery, she said.

Albert-Conner said the facility, which the hospital's Web site describes as having "the most advanced surgical equipment available on the market," is open to any eye surgeon to perform procedures there, regardless of whether he or she is affiliated with the hospital.

Was this move made in anticipation of increased competition from Iowa Health-Des Moines and Mercy Medical Center as they finalize plans to construct new hospitals in West Des Moines?

"I would say no," Albert-Conner said. "We are a critical-access hospital and much more limited in scope than the larger tertiary care facilities. Our goal was to have some more visibility in the southern part of the county, and for the residents to have services available to them for the taxes they pay. I think there is a way for us to be complementary to whatever new services are built in the area."

Albert-Conner said further expansions in Dallas County are possible.

"I would say we are always looking to see how we might serve the entire county," she said. Iowa Health-Des Moines, which manages Dallas County Hospital, has been "very supportive of us looking at avenues to grow our hospital as well."

Wolfe Eye Clinic, in addition to its landlord role, will assist in the day-to-day management of the surgery center's operations, including all the scheduling and staffing. A Wolfe Eye Clinic physician, Dr. Steve Johnson, will serve as its medical director.

"This is a new logical step in our relationship with Dallas County Hospital," said Dr. Jim Davison, president of Wolfe Eye Clinic. "In fact, most ophthalmic patients will attend pre- and post-operative appointments and have surgery at this one location, eliminating travel and parking-related anxieties."

Currently, Dallas County Hospital has one eye surgeon, who performs surgeries a couple of times per month at the hospital in Perry, averaging about 150 procedures per year. With the new facility, "we estimate that we will do possibly 3,000 (procedures) a year," Albert-Conner said. "Part of that has to do with that we have one operating room here that's shared, and we will have three down there." Eye surgeries will continue to be performed in Perry as well, she said.