The History of Eye Associates Northwest
Eye Associates Northwest combined two successful Seattle group ophthalmology practices: Eye Associates of Seattle and the Eye Clinic of Seattle.
Both of these groups had roots in practices established by individual physicians in the 1930’s. Dr. H. Frederick Thorlakson opened his office in the Cobb Building in 1931 specializing in eye, ear, nose and throat. Dr. Carl D. Jensen began his ophthalmology practice in the Medical Dental Building in 1934.
Eye Associates Northwest, P.C. was incorporated in Seattle, Washington in 1993.
Partnership in the Cobb Building
Dr. Fred Thorlakson and his wife, Doris, had traveled though Seattle on their honeymoon in 1924. They were impressed by the beauty of the setting and hoped to return some day. In 1931, Dr. and Mrs. Thorlakson left Crystal, North Dakota, and moved with their two children to Seattle where Dr. Thorlakson established his practice of Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat in the Cobb Building at the corner of 4th Avenue and University Street. The country was just sliding into the depths of the Great Depression.
In 1932, Dr. Thorlakson hired Mrs. Clara Bell as his office assistant. She remained with the practice for 40 years. Dr. Thorlakson was one of 400 physicians who each paid ten dollars to start the King County Medical Service Corporation in 1933. At the end of World War II in 1945, he limited his practice to ophthalmology.
Dr. Neil F. Thorlakson joined his father in practice in the Cobb Building in 1956. He was returning from Harvard Medical School and residency in Boston where he received training from the famous Dr. Charles Schepens in the latest techniques to repair retinal detachment. It was the custom in Seattle for the consulting specialist to come to the referring doctor’s local hospital to perform the surgery with the referring doctor assisting. As a result, Neil performed retinal surgery in Bellingham, Everett, Bremerton, Tacoma, Olympia and Bellevue. There were also many small hospitals in the Seattle area where surgery took place: the Cobb Building Hospital, Medical-Dental Hospital, Cobb-Stimson Hospital, Seattle General Hospital, Northgate Hospital, Public Health Service (Marine) Hospital, Maynard Hospital, Doctors’ Hospital, and Cabrini Hospital and Neil operated in each one. None of these small hospitals exist today. Surgery was also performed at the larger hospitals: Swedish, Providence, Group Health, and Children’s Orthopedic Hospital.
As Dr. Fred Thorlakson was approaching retirement, Dr. David M. Smith, who had a practice in the Cobb Building, agreed to join the partnership in 1967. The practice of ophthalmology was advancing technologically and, as the business side of medicine became more complex, solo practitioners were finding many benefits in joining together in group partnerships.
The three physicians moved to an expanded office on another floor in the Cobb Building that included an adjacent optical shop. New office staff was brought on as Mrs. Bell neared retirement. These included Frances Landes and Anne Thorlakson Taylor, Dr. Fred Thorlakson’s daughter, who developed a more efficient method of handling insurance claims that eventually was widely used by practices throughout the region.
Eye Associates of Seattle
As the 1960’s drew to a close, the geography of medicine in Seattle was changing. Most physician offices had been downtown where many of the small hospitals were also located. Some of these specialized in particular types of care. As payment to doctors and hospitals was increasingly coming from medical insurance, the insurance companies preferred to deal with full-service hospitals rather than smaller specialty hospitals. Smaller hospitals were closing and the larger hospitals were located primarily on First Hill.
Dr. Neil Thorlakson’s interest in retinal detachment work shaped decisions that lead to the formation of Eye Associates of Seattle with offices in the Cabrini Medical Tower. Cabrini Hospital was a smaller First Hill hospital that was differentiating itself from the larger hospitals by developing special strengths in selected medical procedures and conditions. One of the areas they chose to focus on was eye surgery, especially retinal detachments.
Patients with retinal detachments required visits from their physician twice a day. As the patients moved to hospitals on First Hill, the physicians in the Cobb Building partnership decided to move closer to their patients. In 1970, Dr. H.F. Thorlakson retired and Drs. Neil Thorlakson and David Smith formed a professional corporation: Eye Associates of Seattle. In addition to physicians, Eye Associates of Seattle included opticians, contact lens specialists and other non-medical personnel.
As his practice in retinal detachment repair grew, Dr. Thorlakson looked for an associate with expertise in this area who could take on some of the work. Colleagues in Boston recommended Dr. Steven Guzak who was practicing in Denver at the time. Dr. Guzak joined Eye Associates of Seattle in 1973. In 1979, Dr. Howard “Ted” Almquist joined Eye Associates after eleven years as an Army physician.
The 1980’s brought more physicians to the practice: Dr. Scot A. Brower in 1985 and Dr. Thomas E. Gillette in 1987. Dr. Neil Thorlakson retired from Eye Associates of Seattle in 1989.
Partnership in the Medical Dental Building
Dr. Carl Jensen was born in Seattle and raised there. After medical school in Maryland and a residency in ophthalmology at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, he returned to Seattle to establish his practice in the Medical Dental Building in Seattle in 1934. During World War II, he closed his office for three years to serve as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy.
In 1957, Dr. Wood Lyda joined Dr. Jensen’s practice in the Medical and Dental Building in anticipation of the formation of the Eye Clinic of Seattle.
Eye Clinic of Seattle
In 1955, Dr. Lyda and Dr. James Hargiss were sharing research space at the University of Washington and Drs. Jensen and Hargiss were operating together at Providence Hospital. Dr. Jensen suggested that the three physicians establish an eye clinic. At the time, Seattle did not have a clinic that specialized in ophthalmology. After researching many single-specialty clinics in other parts of the country, the three formed a partnership and established the Eye Clinic of Seattle.
The practice opened in November, 1958, in a building they had built for them at 1601 16th Avenue. The two-story building covered two lots and included space for six physicians. There were spaces specifically designed to accommodate the way ophthalmology was practiced at the time: twenty-foot refracting lanes, a room for plotting visual fields, an orthoptics area, etc. Patient Eye Clinic of Seattle photocharts moved around the office through pneumatic tubes. There was a facility for minor surgery and a space rented to Western Optical. The building was designed by architect George Wrede, who later designed the Bellevue Square shopping mall, and incorporated ideas Dr. Hargiss had gleaned from his visits to clinics across the country. The plan called for hospital facilities on a third floor to be added in the future.
Mrs. Patricia Meagher, who had been Dr. Jensen’s office manager at the Medical Dental Building, continued in that role at Eye Clinic of Seattle. The doctors initially dispensed and personally modified contact lenses through an agreement worked out by Dr. Lyda with Erickson Laboratories. Eventually, a contact lens department was established and initially managed by Robert Waugh, who also served as surgical technician. Over the years, many long-term, loyal employees worked at the Eye Clinic of Seattle and a number of them stayed on to be part of the new group formed by the merger with Eye Associates of Seattle.
Drs. Lyda and Hargiss also established the first eye bank in Seattle in 1958. It consisted of the doctors’ phone numbers, a sterile pack that could be picked up at Providence Hospital and taken wherever the donor lay, and a phone list of hopeful recipients.
In 1963, Ned Bishop, a patient of Dr. Jensen’s, endowed one million dollars to support eye research. There were close ties between the resulting Bishop Eye Research Foundation at the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation and the physicians at the Eye Clinic of Seattle. In 1974, the Foundation was gifted to the University of Washington, endowing first research chair in ophthalmology.
In the 1960’s, Drs. Walter C. Peterson (1960) and Charles E. Boylan (1967) joined the Eye Clinic of Seattle. The 1980’s brought Brian R. McKillop (1981), R. Blair Evans (1981) and J. Timothy Heffernan (1988) to the group, all of whom stayed on to become a part of Eye Associates Northwest.
Eye Associates Northwest
In approximately 1990, Brian McKillop from the Eye Clinic of Seattle and Scot Brower from Eye Associates of Seattle began meeting to share what their groups were doing and explore interests the groups had in common.
There was an expectation that revolutionary changes in the state system of health care delivery were on the horizon. Many physicians and others in the health care field thought that larger groups would be able to compete and thrive better in the new environment. In 1993, Drs. Brower and McKillop started exploring the idea of merging their two groups.
Another goal of the merger was to create one group which could provide both comprehensive general ophthalmology care as well as specialty care in all the recognized areas of ophthalmology. At the time, Eye Associates of Seattle had two retina specialists while Eye Clinic of Seattle had none. Eye Clinic of Seattle had an oculoplastics specialist and a glaucoma specialist but Eye Associates of Seattle had neither sub-specialist.
There were no neuro-ophthalmolgists in either group so Dr. Craig Smith and Dr. Steve Hamilton were asked to join the merged group. They did so and remained with the merged group, Eye Associates Northwest, until 2000 when they moved to Swedish Medical Center. This covered all sub-specialties except pediatric ophthalmology which was taken care of when Dr. Epley joined the practice.
All the partners agreed that the merger was a good idea and they met regularly to draft by-laws for the new professional corporation, buy-in and buy-out agreements and a new policy manual. Randy Linaman, the administrator of Eye Associates of Seattle, was chosen to be the administrator of the new group.
The doctors and employees were asked to submit suggestions for a name for the new group. Many were considered, including some not-so-serious suggestions such as “Eye World” and “Eyes ‘R Us.” In the end, the choice was Eye Associates Northwest. The group hired a graphic designer to create a logo resulting in the current Coastal Northwest Native American design with an eye at the center.
The merged group needed to decide on a location. Due to physicians moving or retiring, Eye Clinic of Seattle had grown smaller and its aging building was becoming a burden. So the two groups decided that both groups should leave their own offices and move into a new space. Swedish Medical Center was just completing construction of a new office tower, the 1101 Madison Building. With sky bridge access to the hospital, it seemed like an ideal location.
A committee representing all the groups worked with the architects hired to design the new space. After much effort, the team completed the final plans and construction began under the watchful eye of Mr. Linaman. The efforts of all the staff made the move possible.
In January of 1994, the constituent groups came together as Eye Associates Northwest in its new space on the sixth floor of the 1101 Madison Building.
Eye Associates Northwest has continued to grow. Dr. Mark Potampa merged his private general ophthalmology practice with Eye Associates Northwest in December 1994. Dr. Potampa’s clinic, Eastside Eye Care, was near Eye Associates Northwest’s Kirkland clinic. Eastside Eye Care and Eye Associates Northwest were cooperative and complimentary community clinics sharing patients and some resources and the merger was a natural fit to enhance Eye Associates Northwest in the Evergreen Hospital community.
Dr. Jerrol R. Neupert (general ophthalmology) joined the practice in 1996. In 1998, Dr. David Barr’s general ophthalmology practice at Northgate became a part of Eye Associates Northwest. That same year, Dr. Dennis D. Waltman (general ophthalmology) joined Eye Associates Northwest and Dr. K. David Epley (pediatric ophthalmology) began practicing out of the Seattle, Kirkland, and Sedro Wooley offices. Dr. Brant Carroll (general ophthalmology) came to the Ballard office in 1999.
The year 2000 brought Drs. Jeanna M. Hoyt (general ophthalmology) and T.T. Michael Nguyen (retinal surgery) to Eye Associates Northwest. The next year, Dr. D. Patrick Kelly (refractive surgery) joined the practice. Drs. Timothy H. Tweito (retinal surgery) and Krista Annette Heidar (pediatric ophthalmology) began practicing at Eye Associates Northwest in 2006.