The Neuroscience and Spine Institute in Kalispell continues to build on latest technology, burgeoning talent

STORY BY MOLLY PRIDDY | PHOTOS BY GREG LINDSTROM

Dr. Thomas C. Origitano has one of the best office views in the Flathead, with his desk facing a panel of windows showing a dramatic wall of mountains bordering the west side of the valley, freshly dusted with snow in mid-November.

He says the view is medicine for him, and he should know: Origitano is one of the top neurosurgeons in the region, who performed hundreds of brain surgeries in Chicago and has now settled in Kalispell, as a surgeon and medical director at the Neuroscience and Spine Institute.

The institute is capable of handling a broad spectrum of brain and spinal issues, including but not limited to movement disorders, minimally invasive spine surgery, complex spinal deformity surgery, brain tumors, stroke, child neurology, acute and chronic pain, intraoperative surgical navigation, telemedicine, neuromuscular disease, endonasal endoscopic pituitary surgery, cranial and spinal trauma, and advanced functional imaging.

It was the scenery outside his window, and the forward-thinking administration at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, that drew him here.

“The quality of medicine per the population here is outstanding,” Origitano said. “High-quality living is directly related to high-quality health, and high-quality health is directly related to high-quality health care.”

The Neuroscience and Spine Institute in Kalispell

The Neuroscience and Spine Institute in Kalispell.

When he was considering moving here to practice, Origitano took into account the leadership at Kalispell Regional, and saw an opportunity to develop advanced and complete health care programs.

The administration is supportive and open to new ideas, he said, which is crucial, especially when funding comes into play.

Such a progressive mindset is attractive for physicians and health-care workers, he said, drawing great oncologists, cardiologists, nurses, physical therapists, and all of the other moving parts needed for comprehensive health care.

“(Kalispell Regional Medical Center) has the gravity to become a referral resource for the rest of the state,” Origitano said.

When he first started at the NSI in 2011, the staff meetings included three people. In November, there  were 30 to 40 people gathered for a meeting; in the neurosurgery part of the institute alone, there are five neurosurgeons, three physician assistants, three medical assistants, six front office staff, three billing staff and an office manager.

The practice is growing, in other words, almost exponentially so. Before NSI started up, Origitano said, most of the brain and spinal injuries and surgeries were shipped out of state to larger medical centers.

In three years, the institute has decreased the egress – or neuro and spinal patients having to go elsewhere – by 95 percent.

In fiscal year 2013-2014, staff at the institute facilitated 29,793 patient visits and performed 3,194 diagnostic, interventional and surgical procedures, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. New patient visits grew by 58 percent.

Origitano said there have been 85 brain tumor operations in the last two years, which is considerably less than he was used to performing in Chicago, but will likely increase as more patients and doctors around the state become familiar with the NSI’s capabilities.

Dr. Thomas C. Origitano

Thomas C. Origitano, medical director with the Neuroscience and Spine Institute, talks in his office.

The Flathead doesn’t have a university medical center, he said, but the technology used at KRMC is better than that in most places around the country. And since the NSI has begun operations, the staff has developed relationships with regional hospitals.

“Since we have broadened expertise, we’ve also broadened our relationships,” Origitano said.

It will take some time for most Montanans to realize there is such modern brain and spinal care in Kalispell, he said.  (Helping to spread the institute’s influence is its teleconferencing program, in which the neurologists can perform consultations with patients across the state while the doctor with the patient performs an examination.)

The future is boundless, he said, as technology and opportunity only improve; Origitano hopes to eventually see a hospitality and education center at KRMC, where families of patients can stay, and the education section can attract medical talent from around the world.

He also hopes to see a simulation center at the hospital, where medical professionals could practice new and old techniques before working on live patients.

Continual development in technology and integrated programs throughout the hospital and NSI will only open the door for better services for the valley, and, as Origitano envisions, the rest of the state.

“When people have dreams and visions, and they are able to turn those dreams into tangible programs, the community benefits,” he said.