During medical school and residency, Dr. Allen Lee noticed a shortage of doctors and a need for more consistent, high-quality medical care in small-town hospitals.
Now, the Mercer University alumnus carries out the School of Medicine’s mission of serving medically underserved communities in rural Georgia every day as the CEO of a company that works with health care facilities across the Southeast.
His Thomasville-based company, SouthlandMD, is now the country’s 25th largest provider of emergency medicine services, according to the “State of the U.S. Emergency Medicine Employer Market” report released by Ivy Clinicians in September.
Prior to starting his studies at Mercer School of Medicine, Dr. Lee earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and took pre-med courses at Georgia Tech, taught human anatomy and physiology at Georgia State University, and served as the clinical research coordinator at The Medical Center of Central Georgia. He graduated from Mercer School of Medicine in 2005 and did his residency in emergency medicine at the University of Florida Shands Hospital in Jacksonville.
“Mercer puts you out in all these small communities and helps you understand all these pieces. Before I ever went into residency, I had worked in a lot of these smaller towns. I really started understanding what they had and what they didn’t have,” he said.
Dr. Lee said he saw how the outsourced physicians working in the emergency departments were a transient group who often weren’t emergency medicine-trained or invested in the direction of the hospital. The hospitals had limited resources and finances and were grappling with patient complaints, bad outcomes and other issues.
He started covering emergency room shifts when hospitals were in need and then got other physicians involved. Soon after, he accepted a position as an ER doctor at Archbold Medical Center in his hometown of Thomasville and founded SouthlandMD with a couple other doctors.
Archbold asked Dr. Lee and SouthlandMD to manage the emergency departments at two smaller affiliate hospitals that were struggling, followed by a third. Within a year, the programs were being efficiently run with the hospitals’ needs in mind and had committed, skilled teams of clinicians in place.
“It really has grown quite organically since then. By word of mouth, it grew throughout the state,” Dr. Lee said.
SouthlandMD now runs, manages and staffs more than 54 health care facilities in the Southeast, with about 47 in Georgia. The company has more than 600 health providers in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida, providing care in areas that include emergency medicine, hospital medicine, outpatient/ambulatory services, behavioral health, wound care/hyperbaric and telemedicine. SouthlandMD sees about 765,000 patients a year.
Dr. Lee maintains a hands-on approach across SouthlandMD’s partner facilities — by covering shifts in their emergency departments or meeting with administrators and local doctors — so that he can stay informed on what’s happening and help them continue to grow. He serves as the “middle man” between the clinicians and administrators, who often are at odds.
“I love being a doctor. But what I enjoy the most about it is the innovations it takes, the business side of things, to put together the systems required in medicine these days. Medicine is changing quickly. It takes somebody who has an interest in the bigger picture,” Dr. Lee said. “I am the one who communicates between the administrators and helps them understand what we have to do clinically, and to the clinicians, helping them understand what we have to do so we get paid.”
Dr. Lee said his work as a physician and the CEO of SouthlandMD is an opportunity for him to continue to support the mission of Mercer School of Medicine.
“Our company is suited for the needs of our smaller community hospitals and making them sustainable long-term,” Dr. Lee said. “What Mercer School of Medicine asks you to do essentially is to serve the smaller communities in medicine, and I never questioned that I would do that. I knew I’d be working in smaller towns, but it turns out I staff and manage emergency departments and hospitalist programs in these places, and they’re all these little rural communities of Georgia.”
Dr. Lee hopes to see SouthlandMD continue to grow and expand, especially in behavioral health. The company’s goal is for people to be able to stay in their own communities to receive quality medical care.