Learn how Providence Imaging Center came into being over 25 years ago in this interview from Maurice Coyle, MD. We're so thankful for his vision, and ability to see a solution that led to our creation in 1986. His pioneering spirit and talent for bringing like minds together resulted in one of the finest imaging centers in Alaska.
Providence Imaging Center: Dr. Coyle, before I interview about your involvement in the founding of Providence Imaging Center (PIC), I’d like to learn a bit more about your personal journey. When did you decide to become a radiologist? Why? Was it a lifelong dream, or something you wanted to do later in life?
Maurice Coyle, MD: After Medical School I was going to become an Internal Medicine physician and maybe get into research. So I took my internship and Medical Residency in St. Louis, and a second year of Internal Medicine training at Creighton University in Omaha. During that second year I began to realize that a lot of the answers to questions of diagnosis were found in Radiology. That attracted me. So I went back to St. Louis and did four years of Radiology residency, which I finished in 1968.
We then came to Alaska, courtesy of the Public Health Service for two years at the old Native Hospital on 3rd and Gambell. I was the first board certified radiologist at the Native Hospital and had a very good two years there in Radiology. We fell in love with Alaska quickly. Luckily, as I finished my second year at the Native Hospital there was an opening here at Providence to join the one other radiologist. That was in 1970. Then in 1976 I became chairman of Radiology, and beginning that year we embarked on lots of expansion projects at Providence Hospital, including a new radiology department. Many new physicians were coming to town, presaging a very dynamic period in Providence Hospital’s history.
PIC: When did you see the need for PIC? Was there a moment you realized you had to solve a problem, or meet a need in Radiology that hadn’t been addressed yet?
MC: In 1984, I went to the University of Alabama for a year of fellowship training in Interventional Radiology. My goal was to learn new procedures and bring those skills back to Anchorage. There were almost no outpatient facilities in Anchorage at the time, although we’d had for some time a small outpatient facility inside the basement of the PPB (Editor’s note: PPB is short for Providence Professional Building – also known as the “B” Tower here on campus). We started Mammography there in March of 1974, the first in Alaska. The small basement facility was very successful. It was outpatient oriented, so it kind of whetted our appetite, really, that maybe outpatient imaging was a good thing.
When I got back in 1985 from Alabama, the new “A” Tower had been completed where the PIC is located now. It was a brand new tower with many providers, so when I got back from Alabama I walked over there one day with Bob Estus, who was the radiology department manager. It was a great big, open empty space with a gravel floor, two stories high, but in kind of an odd shape. It was owned by the hospital, and they weren’t sure what to do with the space. There were rumors that administration was thinking about a health club of some sort, or exercise facility-- something like that--and we had the idea of well, why don’t we build an outpatient imaging center there?
PIC: Who partnered with you in the planning stages?
MC: I met with the administrators at that time, including a very forward looking administrator named Al Camosso, who served as chief executive officer of Providence Hospital from 1976 to 1988. We decided we would have a joint venture with the Sisters of Providence. So we partnered with the John Gabriel Ryan Foundation to build PIC in 1985. We had many meetings and head scratching sessions as you can well imagine. It all resulted in the building of Providence Imaging Center, which some people thought couldn’t be done because there wasn’t enough space there, and because there were large pillars, about six feet in diameter, that would be in the way, but we figured out a way to work around those pillars. For example, the original hallway went straight, then you had to take a half circle around one of the pillars sticking into the hallway, but we made it work (laughing). The people who were really important in this project were Bob Estus, a big supporter and a really organized, careful thinker and a visionary person, as were my radiologist partners Drs. John Kottra, Denise Farleigh, and David Moeller.
PIC: Which services did you offer when PIC first opened?
MC: When considering what we were going to put in there, we decided to put in a whole body MRI, which would be the first in Alaska. We also decided to put in a Women’s Center, which was a novel idea at that time. It was very important to us to have the separate Center with privacy and aesthetics which would be well received. In the Women’s Center we had Mammography, Ultrasound, and Osteoporosis Screening. In the rest of the Imaging Center we had MRI, fluoroscopy and plain x-ray. When we opened in 1986 we subdivided the skills of the physicians. Dr. Moeller had had training in Ultrasound, so he was perfect to lead that segment. Dr. Farleigh was very interested in Mammography; she became the mammography expert at PIC, and elevated it to national prominence. It became a center of training for physicians and mammography technologists. Dr. Kottra was instrumental for MRI, a huge challenge and leap forward in imaging.
PIC: What do you think made this novel concept work so well?
MC: Part of the essential thing that makes something like that work is having the full faith and confidence of the partners, namely the Hospital and the Sisters of Providence. I went to Seattle to present this idea – at that time it was just an idea, a plan in our brains--to the Board of the Sisters of Providence. We met around a table, Al Camosso, Bob Estus and myself, with eight nuns--the Sisters of Providence. We had to present considerable detail, and they were very interested in our philosophy. It wasn’t going to be just a commercial operation; it was going to be an operation for the good of the Sisters, and the hospital system, but especially for the people. They were very focused on that. They wanted quality imaging and a quality patient experience. They were also very excited about the Women’s Center, a brand new concept. I think we pioneered that pretty much.
Dr. Farleigh, as I said earlier, was very instrumental in the success of the mammography program. Dr. Moeller trained in ultrasound during his residency in Seattle. When we started sonography, we had a person here who was a superstar named Reni Gordon, a nuclear medicine tech. After my ultrasound sabbatical in 1975, we acquired an ultrasound machine, and asked Reni to be the tech. She was enthusiastic about that and became an outstanding sonographer. Like Dr. Farleigh with mammography, Reni helped take ultrasound where it ought to be--namely very, very good. Dr. Kottra had studied MRI and was in charge of that, so the three services there that needed specialization – MRI, Ultrasound and Mammography – were led by a physician, filling those slots very well, leading the charge to quality. In essence, we had subsections of specialization led by three outstanding physicians who kept us on the cutting edge. It worked!
PIC: Did everything unfold as you expected it to, or were there any hiccups along the way with the design and construction of the Center?
MC: Having good relationships was, as always, the key to things working out so well. When we decided to build the Imaging Center, we had many meetings with General Electric (GE). At that time, we were tied to GE for imaging equipment, because of their commitment to have a repair team in town. In the old days, if a machine went down you’d have to call Seattle and they would “mail” a technician up to repair the machine. You could be down for a week, which was just unacceptable. GE committed to having people in town 24/7 on call.
We committed to buying GE equipment for the PIC and GE told us about a new project: They saw outpatient imaging as a boom industry so they decided they would enter into the business of designing and building imaging centers. Their team would come to a city and they would design and build a Center, filled with GE equipment, as a package deal. When we negotiated with them, we said we would buy their equipment but we didn’t want GE to build the actual Center. We chose to go with a local builder here in Anchorage who happened to be Gary Baugh.
GE sent a team of architects, engineers, and interior designers and worked with us over months. It was a difficult design because of the pillars and the unusually shaped space. We designed a two story structure that served our needs very well. All the drawings and blue prints were drawn up by GE, and presented to Gary Baugh of Baugh Construction. It opened up late summer of 1986. As you can surmise many people were instrumental in making it a success.
PIC: Tell me about the logo.
MC: Our oldest son was working for a public relations firm. The principal was Clark Mishler. He’s a well known photographer now. Our son went to Clark and said “My Dad is opening an imaging center at Providence Hospital and needs a logo.” He then designed that nice logo with the x-ray view of the hearts, and the male and female outlined figures. Outstanding to this day, I think. That cost us exactly nothing. A logo design today might cost a considerable amount.
PIC: How was PIC different from offerings in the Hospital Radiology Department? Strictly outpatient radiology was a pretty new concept, right?
MC: Yes, patients would have to come to the hospital for procedures that did not necessarily require them to be in a hospital setting. Part of the philosophy we had in doing this was that it should be more efficient and more pleasant for patients. It was going to be less costly, and more fun for everybody to have an outpatient department where patients didn’t have to walk down hallways with people on gurneys, or past a ponderous billing department – you know, people who don’t do well with the general atmosphere of a hospital.
For example, a patient would come in for an MRI, upper GI or something similar at the hospital, before the PIC was “born”. If there was an emergency going on or it was just busy, the patient would just sit there. They had an appointment at nine o’clock and it’s now 11 o’clock and they’re hungry, nauseated, who knows what else – that’s just not the way to treat patients.
And again, it was so successful, because it spoke to a need. Success is usually based on need, and people all of a sudden said, you mean, I don’t have to go through the hospital billing department, I don’t have to wait in line, or sit in the hallway and have sick patients around me? And I can bring the kids?
We were very committed to create a pleasing experience, from parking the car, to getting in and out with no hassle, and going home. We also saw it as an opportunity in the marketing area, particularly with the Women’s Center, to attract people to this quality, pleasant, efficient place.
PIC: Was there immediate acceptance from the referral community?
MC: Yes, from day one it was busy. A provider could see a patient in their office; the patient would need an x-ray of their wrist, or the chest, or whatever, and boom: instant service. They could send them right downstairs, and we could send the patient right back with the results. The provider could come right down and look at the results themselves. They loved it. Efficient, convenient, and it made the patients happy--what’s not to like about the whole thing?
PIC: How is being a radiologist different today, vs. 25 years ago?
MC: I think it was more “high touch” than now, with the advancements in electronics and digitizing, the ability to send images anywhere you want. It used to be that all the providers who wanted to see x-rays of their patients came down to the department, pulled out the envelope with the x-ray, and we would look at it together. Now, they can go to a computer in the hospital or in their office and pull up the images. We felt it to be important to be there, helping them look at the images, but there’s less of that now than there was then.
PIC: One of your sons, Jon Coyle, is a radiologist as well. Did you think one of your sons would follow in your footsteps like that? How does it feel to “pass the baton”?
MC: I don’t know how that came about. He went to college, and he majored in philosophy and minored in history. Then later on he started to think, “I want to be a Doctor”. He decided to go to medical school, had a rotation through Radiology, and loved it.
PIC: So it wasn’t a grand plan of yours: “One of my kids needs to be a radiologist.”
MC: Not at all. I just didn’t know he had an interest in that. Kids will fool you. You’ll find that out!
PIC: To wrap up--what are you up to today?
MC: I’m on a few community boards. I was on the Providence Board for many years and was involved in building the Cancer Center at Providence. It was designed with extremely up-to-date technology, with an emphasis on high touch. That was about three years ago. So I’ve stayed busy.
PIC: That’s all I’ve got; thank you very much, Dr. Coyle, for sharing about yourself and your perspective on the origins of Providence Imaging Center.
This interview was conducted on July 27, 2011 by Nathan Switzer