Healthcare Trailblazers: The Compass Surgical Partners Journey

April 13, 2024

Some companies begin at board room tables.

Compass Surgical Partners began at a picnic table.

On a spring day in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2011, co-founders Sean Rambo and DJ Hill sat across from one another at a picnic table to chart a new course for developing and managing ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs).

Rambo and Hill had both worked together previously, leading finance, business development, and operations teams at other ASC management companies. Now, they wanted to harness their experience and expertise to create something great together.

Rambo and Hill did not have direct clinical expertise or experience. Both had started their careers as finance majors and MBAs. But great surgical care can’t happen without great business acumen in the background, and Rambo and Hill had spent their careers creating great places for surgical teams to work.

“I wasn’t drawn to the clinical side of medicine,” Hill says, “But I admire people who heal others and I want to help them do their best work.”

“When I was a teenager, a close friend was in an awful car accident. She suffered injury and trauma that caused a coma,” Hill recalls. “During my visits to the ICU to see her, I was mesmerized by the care she received.”

“I decided then and there, at her bedside and watching clinicians working to heal her, that I wanted to be in healthcare,” he says.

This story has a happy ending. Hill’s friend recovered, and he started on the path towards a healthcare career and envisioning Compass Surgical Partners.

Setting Stakes for High-Performance ASCs Where Healing Happens

Together at the picnic table, Rambo and Hill sketched out their bedrock principles for creating a business that would propel surgical excellence —long before any company formation document was signed.

“Let’s create places where we’d take our family and friends for care,” they agreed.

Rambo and Hill didn’t want to be just another ‘ASC management company’ that focused on business transactions. Instead, they wanted to emphasize and focus on the partnership aspects of developing and leading ASCs. They wanted to concentrate on long-term surgical excellence and financial health rather than shorter-term gains.

They were determined to make certain their new company would respect and honor the trust that physician and health system partners would place in their new company’s team.

“Let’s work only with great people,” Hill and Rambo concurred. “We won’t tolerate toxicity.”

And “let’s create a place where we want to show up and do our best every day—and others do too,” they agreed.

This much they knew—that their principles simply matter more than business goals like number of ASCs or revenue.

Those aspirations still guide Compass Surgical Partners today. “We create strong partnerships that improve the lives of patients and providers,” our mission statement says.

True North: The ASC Advantage

Rambo and Hill had worked closely with surgeons and surgical teams, so they understood that technological advancements were making many procedures less invasive and lower risk. ASCs were well on the way to becoming the standard of care for more procedures and more patients. As is often the case in healthcare, reimbursement policies and regulations were moving much more slowly than surgical innovation. Together, Rambo and Hill began to build a team of people who could navigate obstacles outside the clinical setting to create ASC spaces and infrastructures for surgical teams to do their very best work.

In the 13 years since Compass began, many surgical procedures have moved from inpatient-only settings and into outpatient settings, and from hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) and into ASCs.

What first drew our founders to the ASC industry has not changed. The benefits of ambulatory surgical care are:

  • ASCs are more convenient and comfortable for lower-risk patients than hospital settings, which makes for better patient experiences.
  • Because ASCs can focus on a limited number of lower-risk procedures, physicians work with specialized equipment and surgical teams not available in most hospital settings. Surgical outcomes in ASCs meet or often exceed surgical outcomes for the same procedures in hospital settings.
  • Surgical procedures performed in ASCs cost less than the same procedures performed in HOPDs.
  • Patients pay less out-of-pocket for procedures performed in ASCs than they would if they received those same procedures in an HOPD or other hospital setting.
  • Moving less complex, lower-acuity, and non-emergent cases to ASC settings allows hospitals to focus on acute, complex procedures for higher-risk patients. This means that ASCs improve patient care overall, even for patients who receive their care at a hospital.
  • ASCs make healthcare better because physician stakeholders drive clinical excellence. Compass Surgical Partners is proud to empower our partners to move healthcare forward.

Where We Are on Our Journey

Today, Compass Surgical Partners spearheads a nationwide portfolio of ASC joint ventures with health systems and physicians. Many of our joint ventures have focused on underserved areas that have benefitted from having more ambulatory surgery center options. As 2024 begins, the Compass team includes a growing number of people: 50 financial, business development, operations, reimbursement, and human resources professionals who focus on forging and developing partnerships. An additional 400 clinical and administrative staff work at Compass’s partner ASCs.

As our name, “Compass,” reminds us, the work we do to create strong partnerships in an ever-changing healthcare landscape is a bit like navigation. The goal isn’t to follow a prescribed route, but rather, rely on our past experiences and our analysis of current conditions to discern which path to follow. Along the way, Compass’s ‘healthcare navigators’ pivot nimbly to surmount obstacles or seize opportunities they may not have planned for.  

Our Proven, Agile, and Aligned Operating Model

Compass is differentiated by its proven track record of success. Over their careers at Compass and elsewhere, our experienced leadership team has developed more than 250 ASCs over the past three decades.

Our team’s experience and expertise give Compass a broad, deep toolkit; however, we do not follow a cookie-cutter approach. Each partnership is different because the physicians, health system, and patients the ASC serves are unique. We must align ourselves with our partners in each joint venture and be agile enough to deploy the strategies and tactics that serve each unique partnership best.

“Having worked in large healthcare companies, I recognize that Compass is special for our entrepreneurial ability to deliver partnership excellence,” says CFO Marissa Freedman.

Entrepreneurial tactics are key because “the markets are moving extraordinarily quickly,” says co-founder and CEO Hill. “Health systems need to move quickly and choose partners that will move quickly on their behalf to capture opportunities.”

Compass “deploys a nimble approach to our leadership,” Hill adds. “Our health system partners have told us that they appreciate how our high-functioning team brings opportunities forward and solves problems creatively.”

“Alignment is something we don’t take lightly,” says co-founder and president Rambo. “We all must be working in concert to achieve our goals.”  

“When we partner with a health system in an ASC joint venture, we become an extension of that health system in the market—both with physician partners and the patients they serve,” Rambo explains. “Stakeholders are trusting us to develop, manage and build their ambulatory surgery footprint.”  

What began as principles forged at a simple picnic table has spread to operating tables, board room tables, and other tables where healthcare collaboration and transformation happen to better serve patients.

Interested in exploring a partnership with Compass Surgical Partners? Contact Us