Frank G. Opelka, MD, FACS, a colon and rectal surgeon and Medical Director, Quality and Health Policy, American College of Surgeons (ACS) Division of Advocacy and Health Policy, Washington, DC, has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award (DSA). He will receive the award, the highest honor bestowed by the College, Sunday, October 16, at the Convocation Ceremony that will precede the official opening of the ACS Clinical Congress at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington. The award acknowledges Dr. Opelka’s many contributions to the ACS and his accomplishments in the field of surgery.
The ACS Board of Regents is presenting the DSA to Dr. Opelka “in appreciation for his continuous and devoted service as a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and as the physician leader of the College’s quality and health policy efforts in the Washington, DC, office over the last 15 years.”
Champion of optimal patient care
Dr. Opelka, an ACS Fellow since 1992, has served in his current position in the ACS Washington Office since 2014. As Medical Director, Quality and Health Policy, and in his previous volunteer roles within the organization, he has made strides to improve the ACS’ visibility on strategic committees and organizations. He continues to work with federal agencies to strengthen the College’s influence in health policy decision making. Dr. Opelka has helped the ACS to define issues, develop policies, and apply these positions in regulatory and legislative comments and proposals. His work with federal agencies—including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute—has strengthened the College’s role in promoting optimal surgical care.
In his nearly 25 years as a Fellow, Dr. Opelka has held leadership positions within the ACS and served as a member of several programs and committees. Dr. Opelka is a Founding Chair of the ACS Patient Safety and Advisory Committee, Co-Chair of the Performance Measures Committee, and a member of the ACS Health Policy Scholars Committee.
Dr. Opelka was a key architect of the ACS Health Information Technology Committee’s efforts to transform health care into a value-based system using high-quality databases. He also served as Chair of the ACS Committee on Patient Safety and Quality Improvement (2006−2010) and has been a member of the General Surgery Coding and Reimbursement Committee (GSCRC) since 2003. In 1992, he began working on the GSCRC, formerly the Socioeconomic Committee, and in this capacity served for 10 years as an advisor to specialty societies on Current Procedural Terminology codes and to the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), a group involving the American Medical Association (AMA) and national medical specialty societies. He led the AMA’s Practice Expense Advisory Committee launch at the RUC.
Dr. Opelka was a key member of the National Quality Forum’s Measures Application Partnership established under the Affordable Care Act. He has assumed leadership positions in all of the national quality improvement efforts, including serving as chair of the AMA Physician Consortium for Performance Improvement, a member of the Quality Alliance Partnership in Healthcare and the Consensus Standards Advisory Committee, and chair of the National Voluntary Consensus Standards for Hospital Care Outcomes and Efficiency.
Dr. Opelka is founder and chair of the Surgical Quality Alliance, which includes surgical specialties societies inside the Washington, DC, beltway. He served as a member of the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s Physician Advisory Committee for the Medical Home and the Committee on Overuse and Appropriateness. Dr. Opelka was co-chair of the Ambulatory Care Quality Alliance Physician Performance Group and served on the United Healthcare Group’s physician advisory committee. He is a director of the Health Care Notification Network, which serves as the FDA’s physician alert system.
A leader at LSU
Dr. Opelka was executive vice-president of the Louisiana State University (LSU) System, Baton Rouge (2012–2016). He was previously vice-chancellor, LSU Health Sciences Center (2008−2012), and before that an associate dean of health care quality and safety and associate dean of clinical affairs at LSU School of Medicine. He served as the chief executive officer of LSU’s HealthCare Network (2005−2006).
He previously worked with the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Services in pursuing statewide initiatives for quality, accountability, and transparency in health care. In addition, Dr. Opelka developed insurance programs for underinsured patients and has helped to establish links for these patients to health care services at LSU. He helped foster a culture of education and graduate medical education by removing burdens of care management from failing hospital systems.
Dr. Opelka was a member of LSU’s electronic health record (EHR) steering committee, which selected and implemented a statewide EHR and information exchange. He worked throughout the state of Louisiana to redesign the LSU health and medical education for the 21st century. Dr. Opelka also served on the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum and, at the governor’s request, led a redesign of the statewide public hospital system into a public-partnership hospital project that created a cooperative endeavor agreement among nine Louisiana cities.
Before joining LSU, Dr. Opelka worked as the vice-chief of surgery and chief of the division of colorectal surgery, Harvard Medical Faculty and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA.
Hurricane Katrina response
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans in 2005, Dr. Opelka was part of a response team that moved the entire LSU medical school 70 miles north to Baton Rouge. He worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in deploying, in fewer than 28 days, a faculty trailer park, complete with roads, in-ground plumbing, and electricity. Dr. Opelka assisted in the acquisition of a Swedish cruise ship to house the medical residents and students. He then assisted in re-establishing residencies throughout the region. In one month, he worked with others to re-establish an entirely new faculty group practice. One year later, Dr. Opelka assisted in the return of all medical school programs to New Orleans.
U.S. Army career
Earlier in his career, Dr. Opelka served in the U.S. Army as a surgeon, Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, NC (1987−1992); chief of surgery, Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, Fort Polk, LA (1990−1992); and chief of ambulatory surgery, Darnall Army Community Hospital, Fort Hood, TX (1986−1990). In 1988 Dr. Opelka received a Meritorious Service Award from the U.S. Army, and in 1991 he was the recipient of a Desert Storm Combat Service Award.
Dr. Opelka received a bachelor of science degree from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX, in 1977 and pursued his medical education at the University of Health Sciences, Chicago Medical School, IL, graduating in 1981. He completed his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC (1982−1986), and the Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Augusta, GA (1982−1986). He also served as a fellow for one year (1989–1990) at the Oschsner Foundation Hospital, New Orleans.
Dr. Opelka belongs to a number of professional societies in addition to the ACS, including the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, from which he received the distinguished service award in 1992; the AMA; the Massachusetts Medical Association; and the Healthcare Finance Management Association. He has served as president of the Piedmont Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and the New Orleans Surgical Society.