GLP-1s spur Oklahoma system to close clinic, end bariatric services

The popularity of medications like Wegovy has reduced the number of weight loss surgeries at Norman (Okla.) Regional Health System, prompting the organization to shutter its bariatric program. 

The system is closing its medical weight loss facility, Journey Clinic, within 90 days and stopped accepting new patients July 8. Richie Splitt, president and CEO of Norman Regional, said the closure is because more patients are preferring GLP-1 drugs to invasive surgeries. 

Two years ago — about the same time GLP-1s rose in prominence — the hospital system began experiencing a decline in bariatric surgeries. Between July 2023 and June 2024, Norman Regional saw a 30% decrease in weight loss operations. 

"They [GLP-1 medicines] have been transformative on weight loss management over time, and we're seeing the effects of that," Mr. Splitt told Becker's

He added that many patients are first seeking noninvasive options, including prescription weight loss, before considering bariatric surgery. 

The trend is not only happening in Norman: Bariatric operations are declining in some markets, and Vizient analysts predict a 15% drop in inpatient bariatric surgeries by 2034 as outpatient volumes increase and pharmaceutical weight loss comes into vogue. 

"We've been seeing that decline in volumes over time, which led us to have some very frank conversations and then ultimately to the difficult decision to close the Journey Clinic and bariatric operations," Mr. Splitt said. 

The clinic employs three bariatric surgeons and a few dozen other healers — the system's term for all staff. Norman Regional, which is also consolidating two inpatient hospitals and working on a yearslong expansion project, plans to transfer the employees to other areas in the organization. 

The system is also working to smoothly transfer patients to providers who perform bariatric surgeries, Norman Regional told patients in a July 8 letter obtained by Becker's

Mr. Splitt said the decision was "extremely hard" but "one we had to make."

"I don't want to lose sight of all the great work, the exceptional care that was provided from being a center of excellence," he said. "You just can't turn your head to those things and look the other way. You have to acknowledge them. This is a loss to our health system. It's a loss to those people who've worked so hard. 

"I think that's an important element for us: not to lose sight of just the remarkable work, the number of lives they touched in providing these services over the years. I know they're going to continue doing great work in the area, but they're going to have to evolve with this new landscape of healthcare just like we are."

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