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New Sanford center combines eating disorders, weight management treatment

FARGO - It takes a village to treat an eating or weight disorder. At various points, a single patient might need a surgeon, a dietitian, a psychologist, a counselor and a support group.

Now, Sanford Health has moved everyone in that village under one roof.

The hospital's new Eating Disorders & Weight Management Center opened Monday in a Sanford building in Fargo. The 6,700-square-foot facility brings together 17 medical providers and dozens of other support staff in a one-stop shop for patients with eating and weight issues.

"Most of the parts of it, with some exceptions, had been existing before," said Dr. James Mitchell, Sanford's vice president of research and one of the center's co-directors. "The idea is bringing it all together."

Previously, the various services represented in the center - medical care and surgery, therapy, nutrition counseling - were spread across different Sanford branches. Combined, they treated more than 1,500 patients a year.

That's a typical arrangement, said Dr. Luis Garcia, Sanford's medical director of weight-loss surgery and another center co-director.

"It's very common to find institutions that have these services fragmented the way we had it," he said. But a consolidated center like Sanford's is one of just a few of its kind nationwide - if not the only one.

Garcia said the comprehensive approach is important because eating and weight disorders require diligent, ongoing treatment rather than a one-time session or procedure.

"It's not a matter of, I do your surgery or I put you on a diet and then two months later you're going to be completely healthy," he said. "These patients require a long-term follow-up to obtain success."

Mitchell said patients who require one treatment often benefit from others. A patient who needs weight-loss surgery, for instance, may also have a binge-eating disorder that needs to be addressed. And patients across the spectrum of eating disorders often need a mix of medical care, psychological treatment and emotional support.

"Now, we can refer them to all those nooks and crannies where they're going to get all their needs met," he said.